Panama Papers: Multi-agency team to probe money stashed abroad

The government today announced the formation of a multi-agency group to monitor the expose in the leaked `Panama Papers' of alleged offshore holdings of 500 Indian nationals, finance minister Arun Jaitley said, as he vowed to take action against all "unlawful" accounts held abroad.

Speaking to reporters in the capital, Jaitley said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the issue with him this morning and that the group has been set up comprising agencies like CBDT, RBI and FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit) on his advice.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money also said it will investigate thoroughly the reported secret list exposed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

''In the context of the commitment of the central government to bring-out undisclosed money both from abroad and from within the country, information brought-out by any investigative journalism is welcome,'' a finance ministry release stated.

Earlier, based on the investigative journalism of ICIJ in 2013 in which the links of 700 Indians were shown to have business connection with offshore entities, the revenue department had identified 434 persons out of them as Indian residents, while 184 persons have admitted their relationship with such off-shore entities/transactions.

Although, in the previous report of ICIJ, information relating to the financial transactions/bank accounts was not available, the government authorities have detected credit in the undisclosed foreign accounts of such Indian persons in excess of Rs2,000 crore, the release said, adding that 52 prosecution complaints under the provision of Income-Tax Act have been filed against offenders so far.

Similarly, based on information received in 2011 from the French government, relating to the bank accounts of 628 Indian persons in HSBC, Switzerland, 569 persons have been traced. However, in the information received, details of HSBC amount were shown against 339 persons only. Out of 628 accounts, 214 were found not actionable on account of no balance or being non-residents or being non-traceable. Out of the remaining cases, assessments have been completed in 390 cases in which undisclosed income of Rs5,018 crore and tax demand of Rs4,584 crore has been raised. A concealment penalty of Rs1,213 crore has also been levied in 157 cases. Also 154 prosecution complaints have been filed in HSBC cases.

Based on the prosecution complaints of predicate offences, ED has also initiated investigation in 23 cases of HSBC and 20 cases of ICIJ expose of 2013, the release pointed out.

India is also pinning hopes on the recent initiative of Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) to probe into the working of countries that remain tax havens, causing tax losses to all other countries of the world.