India's black money investigations just received more grist as a major leaked list of account holders in HSBC Zurich during 2006-07 has thrown up the names of several prominent businessmen and politicians, along with relatively unknown people holding small amounts of money.
The Indian Express has published the list in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is publishing details worldwide through multiple media outlets.
In the Indian context, holding an overseas account is not illegal. But if it has not been disclosed to Indian tax authorities or if the money contained in it has been salted away without paying taxes in a relevant jurisdiction, the act might invite prosecution and penalties.
Top businessmen, including Anil Ambani, who helms Reliance Comm, and his elder brother Mukesh, the head of Reliance Industries, and prominent politicians are among the 1,195 Indians named as account holders in HSBC’s private banking arm in Geneva and their balances for the year 2006-07 revealed in secret documents published by the Indian Express on Monday.
This roughly doubles the number of names that French authorities submitted to the government in 2011 and for the first time reveals the identities of the well known account holders. The names revealed in the report by the Express are from across the industry—there are industrialists, diamond merchants and wealthy political families.
Anand Chand Burman, the chairman of Dabur India, Rajan Nanda of the Escorts Group, industrialist Yashovardhan Birla, diamond traders Rusell Mehta and Anoop Mehta, former UPA minister Preneet Kaur, former Congress MP Annu Tandon, family members of former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane, Bal Thackeray’s daughter-in-law Smita Thackeray, NRI Swraj Paul and Rajendra Ruia of the Arco Group are named in the report.
This comes even as the government is preparing to disclose the names of around 60 Indians and entities it has initiated tax evasion prosecution proceedings against as part of its crackdown on black money accounts in the HSBC bank's list, PTI reported on Monday.
The Narendra Modi government had in October, 2014, submitted a list of 627 names to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope. The court refused to disclose the names saying that only senior officials of the special investigation team can open the envelope. At the time, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said most of the people on the list were residents of India and the rest were NRIs.
Those against whom legal action has been initiated include corporations, business houses and other individuals as the Income Tax department has completed its probe and filed prosecution complaints against these entities, on the directions of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted to tackle black money and illegal assets held by Indians abroad.
The SIT, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Justice M B Shah, had said in its last report to the government and the Supreme Court in December 2014 that the black money holders names in HSBC Geneva list will be taken to their logical conclusion soon.
In November 2012, Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, had in a widely covered press conference accused the Ambanis, Jet Airways owner Naresh Goyal and Congress MP Annu Tandon of siphoning crores of unaccounted cash to the Geneva branch of HSBC Bank and "openly and brazenly running a hawala racket in India."
Reliance in turn had strongly denied the charge saying that: "Neither Reliance Industries Limited nor Mr. Mukesh Ambani had any accounts with HSBC in Geneva."
"Reliance Industries Limited denies all allegations made by IAC against Reliance and Mr. Mukesh Ambani in their press conference... Neither Reliance Industries Limited nor Mr. Mukesh Ambani have or had any illegitimate accounts anywhere in the world,” the company said in a statement.
Kejriwal, widely expected to win the Delhi legislative assembly elections, is seemingly right about some names in the purported list. The Express quoted officials of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) as saying that gaps remained in the data submitted by the government—some 200 accounts had no balance and 211 of them were of NRIs.
“We are contacting everyone and not leaving this as a presumption. We are putting the onus of proving NRI status during the relevant period on the account-holder,” The Express quoted a senior CBDT official as saying.
The CBDT is contemplating whether HSBC and its officials should be brought under scrutiny for abetting tax evaders.