Germany got hold of a CD list of around 1,400 tax evaders hiding their undeclared and/or illegal money in the LGT Bank in Europe’s tax haven Liechtenstein in February. Are there any Indian names on it?
Just last week, Transparency International commented that the Indian government did not seem much inclined to find out. Shortly thereafter, finance minister P. Chidambaram refuted that claim and said his government had written to its German counterpart in March, but got no data so far. That the lack of response has not been questioned by India seems a bit odd, given that the CD list that Germany reportedly bought from a former employee of the LGT Bank in Liechtenstein has already triggered serious investigation and some indictments by countries such as the US and UK, apart from one of the biggest tax probes involving key citizens by Germany itself.
Transparency International said the probability of Indian names being on that list is high, and also expressed concern that money stored in tax havens is often not only that accrued by tax evasion, but can also be the earning from corrupt practices. Going by past record of scams in India —defence purchases and otherwise—it would seem that we should chase this with more concern than seen till date.
There’s a larger issue at stake today. As the May edition of BusinessWeek reported, there’s growing cross-border collaboration to trace big tax evaders among governments from the US down to Australia. It points out how globalization—which had long lent an edge to those who would park their undeclared assets in around 40 identified tax havens, including the no-questions-asked Swiss banks —is now working for tax cops. The trend is intensifying with most government budgets getting increasingly strained.
So, what is India’s position on such an effort? Much like Germany, which has now unearthed substantial evasion, India’s tax laws leave ample scope for dodging—despite the tax reforms aimed at simplification and better compliance.
Along with its chronic problems of corruption at the highest levels, India’s share of complex offshore transactions is only set to rise. It needs to do all it can to catch the big fish. Chasing Germany for that list will be a good start.
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