THE Supreme Court has virtually taken into its own hands the probe into black money stashed in foreign banks, slamming the Centre’s “evasive, confused and laggardly” investigations.
A two-judge bench ordered the formation of a special investigation team (SIT), which will be able to lodge cases on its own, with two former judges at the top who will be providing direction.
The probe will now run along the lines of the court-monitored 2G investigations.
The court has asked the Centre to make public the names of black money holders who had been issued show-cause notices or against whom investigations had been completed.
By itself this may not lead to big revelations since only a few businessmen, and no politician, have been show-caused and some of the names have already been leaked.
Much, therefore, depends on the future direction of the probe under the two former apex court judges, SIT chairperson Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy and vice-chairperson Justice MB Shah. The SIT’s ability to question anybody, seek any evidence and lodge cases is also a crucial point. The court today rapped the government for ignoring recommendations for prosecution from the high-powered panel that till now oversaw the investigations.
Rap at ‘elite’
The court rued the “moral compromises” by the ruling “elite” that had led to the problem, and asked the state not to be “carried away by the ideology of neo-liberalism” and ignore signs of wrongdoing.
Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar just stopped short of calling India a “soft state” that has lost the moral will or authority to govern.
The order came on two public interest litigations filed by lawyer Ram Jethmalani, former police bosses KPS Gill and Julio Ribeiro, and others. The court retained ten members of the existing high-powered panel and added three members, and asked the government to immediately designate it as SIT.
Apart from the two former judges, the third member added was the director of external intelligence agency RAW. The ten members retained are: the revenue secretary (panel chief till now); RBI deputy governor; directors of the CBI, Intelligence Bureau, Enforcement Directorate and the Financial Intelligence Unit; chairperson and joint secretary of the Central Board of Direct Taxes; and the directors-general of the Narcotics Control Bureau and Revenue Intelligence.
The court said nothing had been done in the case though show-cause notices were issued long ago. “The named individuals were very much present in the country. Yet, for unknown and possibly unknowable — though easily surmisable —reasons, the investigations proceeded at a laggardly pace. Even the named individuals had not yet been questioned with any seriousness. These are serious lapses, especially when viewed from the perspective of larger issues of security….”
The court pointed to the slipshod probe against Pune stud farm-owner Hasan Ali Khan and Calcutta-based businessman Kashinath Tapuriah, whom media reports have accused of laundering money for political bigwigs.
It said Khan was not questioned in custody till the court intervened, that the chargesheet against him was not vetted by the high-powered panel, and that Khan and Tapuriah were not asked about their sources of income.
“The investigation had completely stalled. It also now appears that even though his (Khan’s) passport had been impounded, he was able to secure another passport… in Patna, possibly with the help of a politician,” the court said.
During the interrogation of Khan and Tapuriah, many VIP names — including leaders of some corporate giants, powerful politicians and international arms dealers — had cropped up, the court noted.
“So far, no significant attempt has been made to investigate and verify…. (This) points to the need for continued, effective and day-to-day monitoring by an SIT,” the judges said.