The Moving Finger Writes:Getting Back Slush Money
How much Indian money is stashed in foreign banks, notably in Switzerland? Assessment varies. One figure mentioned in The Hindu (June 20) is to the amount of Rs 14,000 crore. Data released by Switzerland’s Central Banking Authority, the Swiss National Bank showed this stashed money amounted to Rs 13,650 crore or 6.5 billion Swiss francs. The Hans India (June 24) put the figure at Rs 6,92,328 crore. It said: “The amount is so huge, if it is brought back, the Centre would be able to run successfully without anyone paying taxes for the next twenty years.”
According to The Indian Express (September 15, 2010) “much of the funds flowing out are generated at home within India and then sent illegally abroad.” Just one Indian businessman, Pune-based Hasan Ali Khan, had declared in October 2011 a mind-boggling figure of Rs 1.10 lakh crore stashed abroad over eight years, a tab less, according to the Deccan Herald “than the country’s defence budget for 2009-2010 which was Rs 1,41,700 crore”. A BJP report in 2011 has estimated India’s black money to be worth between Rs 30 lakh crore and Rs 84 lakh crore. Noted The Hindustan Times the amount is so much that “it could offer a ‘zero-tax’ year for all individuals and companies and still enable a sufficient budget that funds all expenses, including salaries and welfare schemes.”
A crack-down on India’s grey economy has long been overdue and the time has come to hold it to account with a firm grip. And this has been recently made possible by the Modi government which announced the setting up of a high level Special Investigation Team (SIT) under instruction from the Supreme Court. SIT will be headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice MB Shah, and another retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Arjit Pasayat, would be its vice-chairman. SIT will have high profile government officials like Revenue Secretary, Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India, Director of Intelligence Bureau, Director of Enforcement Directorate, Director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Chief of Research and Analyses Wing (RAW), Chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes and Director of Financial Intelligence as members. Already the Government of India has written strong letter to the Swiss authorities concerned, demanding names of Indian depositors in Swiss banks. The general belief is that the Swiss will not oblige, come what may. SIT has been told to keep the Supreme Court informed about all major developments by filing periodic status reports and to follow special orders that the Court itself may issue from time to time. The SIT, however, has its limitations.
Writing in Bharatiya Pragnia (June 2014), Ram Jethmalani has quoted a German magazine (November 11 1991) as saying that Rajiv Gandhi was among 14 Third World politicians who had stashed their booty in Swiss banks. According to Jethmalani, “By now the Sonia family’s inheritance must have swollen to nearly 10 billion dollars.” In that same magazine, S Gurumurthy notes, “As early as February 2008, the German authorities had collected information about illegal money kept by citizens of different countries in Lichenstein Bank. The German Finance Minister offered to provide the names of account holders to any government interested in the names of its citizens. There were media reports that some 250 Indian names were found in the Lichtenstein Bank list.” Meanwhile, will Swiss banks oblige?
SIT has a tough job ahead, but at least it can get information as to how many of our politicians et al have in recent times made trips to Geneva and for how long a period. What is our Embassy in Geneva doing when Indians are noticed entering Swiss Bank premises right in front of their noses? Or is it that the embassy staff couldn’t care less? Surely, Indians wouldn’t be going for howsoever long a stay in the Swiss capital, to enjoy masala dosa and dahi vada?
-M V Kamath (The writer is a senior columnist and former editor of Illustrated Weekly)