Recovering black cash more important than naming names: SC

21 January 2015

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was more interested in getting the black money stashed abroad by Indians back to the country than in the disclosure of the names of illegal account holders in foreign banks.

"We are interested in money coming back and not on disclosure of names," a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu said in response to arguments that the government should disclose the names of those who have admitted having illegal accounts in foreign banks.

The bench, also comprising Justices M B Lokur and A K Sikri, expressed confidence that the government along with the SC-appointed special investigation team (SIT) would do the needful in this regard.

However, the bench accepted the plea of noted jurist Ram Jethmalani, one of the petitioners in the matter, that the SIT, chaired by Justice M B Shah with Justice Arijit Pasayat as vice chairman, consider all suggestions to bring back illegal money stashed abroad.

"We permit all parties including the interveners to bring to the notice of the SIT their suggestions within two weeks from today and if such suggestions are given in time, we only request the chairman and vice chairman of the SIT to consider the same in accordance with the law and send a copy of the report to that aspect to this court in a sealed cover," it said.

The bench made it clear that it was not saying anything on the suggestions put forward by Jethmalani in his fresh application, and it was for the SIT to consider those.

Jethmalani's counsel, senior advocate Anil Divan, alleged that "not a single rupee has come to this country" in last six months and only some searches and attachments have occurred.

The apex court granted three weeks' time to Divan to file a reply to the stand of the union government, which has so far shown unwillingness to share documents concerning its correspondence with French government on the issue.

The Centre has said in its reply in this regard that it has submitted all documents and communications to the SIT, which has to take a call on supplying them to the petitioners.

The issue concerns a list of 627 Indians who have accounts in HSBC Bank, Geneva, in which a tax probe for suspected black money has to be completed by 31 March and was placed before the apex court on 29 October last year.

The documents containing correspondence with French authorities, names of the account holders and the status report of the probe conducted so far were submitted in separate sealed covers by the Attorney General which the apex court had not opened.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that despite the Centre considering the issue of black money, the petitioners were raking it up by filing application after application. He said whatever names have cropped in the probe, "We are bringing them and the cases in which the prosecution has been launched and the names been disclosed."

He said all income tax assessments relating to the accounts of Indians in HSBC bank, Geneva, would be completed by March end.

However, Divan and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is an intervener in the matter, argued that the publication of the names would act as deterrent and put fear into those having stashed the moneys abroad and chanelled into drugs, terrorism and human trafficking.

Divan said that international investigative journalists have published some 1,200 names of Indian account holders. However, the court asserted that it would not order disclosure of the names and the issue was to bring back the money.

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