New Delhi: Talking tough, the Supreme Court on Friday questioned the government as to why it was reluctant in disclosing the names of Indian nationals who have allegedly stashed black money in foreign banks.
“What is the difficulty in disclosing the information,” a bench comprising B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar asked when solicitor general Gopal Subramanium informed the bench that government has got the details but did not want to reveal it.
The court’s remarks came after the government contended that it has got the information from the German government pertaining to the bank accounts of Indian citizens in Liechtenstein Bank there.
“What is the privilege you are claiming for not disclosing the information (about those who have money deposited in foreign banks),” the bench asked Subramanium.
After the court’s poser, Subramanium submitted that he would take instructions from the government with reference to the names of the Indian nationals holding bank accounts in foreign countries.
The court was hearing a petition filed by noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who along with some retired bureaucrats and police officers approached it seeking directions to the government to take steps to bring black money stashed in foreign bank back to the country.
The court said it would like persons including Pune-based businessman Hassan Ali Khan, who is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with alleged black money stashed in foreign banks, to be impleaded as a party to the petition.
“If the names of the account holders are before us then why not implead them in the case. Let them come,” the court.
The Centre also submitted that it has no problem in placing status report on its investigation on any individual.
“I am prepared to give status report on any individual. There is no difficulty in giving status report. We are committed to our position that there has been tax avoidance cases,” the solicitor general said.
The court, however, said that it was a serious problem and not only about tax avoidance.
“Issues involved in the case are serious and of larger dimension. Its not only about tax-avoidance,” the court said.
During the brief hearing on Friday, senior advocate Anil Divan, appearing for Jethmalani and others, raised questions over the government following the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) in its probe into the money deposited with the Liechtenstein Bank in Germany.
He contended that for Indians having accounts in the foreign bank, there was no requirement for following the DTAA as it is only needed in case of citizens of other countries.
The petitioners alleged that government is not serious on the issue and despite having all the information given by the German government, it has done nothing for the last two years.
Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate had filed its status report on the probe in a sealed cover before the court which said that it will consider making it public after examining it.
The apex court had on 30 November aken strong exception to the ED filing an “unsigned” status report.
It had returned the status report which was placed before it in a sealed cover to the investigating agency making it clear that “it will not accept the report which has not been signed by any official”.
The Centre has claimed privilege over some documents and said it could not make them public as it would jeopardise the investigation carried out so far.
Besides Jethmalani, five others, including former Punjab DGP K.P.S. Gill and former secretary general of Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap who are petitioners, have alleged that the government was not taking action to bring the back black money stashed in foreign banks.
NGO People’s Political Front and former top cop Julio F. Riberio are also among the petitioners.