Black money: 250 admit to foreign accounts, more names coming

New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday said the identities of 427 overseas account holders have been established and 250 of them had conceded to holding these accounts. He refuted opposition charges that the government was doing little to get back the illicit money stashed away by Indians abroad.

Replying to the debate on black money in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said the government wanted to follow the correct procedure in disclosing names.

"The issue is not to disclose or not, but how and when to disclose the names," he said.

He said this was because since the evidence of black money stashed away by Indians was outside the Indian shores, the government must get evidence first from other countries, using the various treaties that New Delhi entered into with them.

"The names will become public," Jaitley assured, when some opposition members demanded that the government reveal the identities of the perpetrators right away, since they were already being talked about in the media.

"Disclosure of names, without following the proper procedures, would only benefit the account holders," he added.

The opposition led by the Congress sought to tear into the government on the issue and asked it to "apologise" for making "false promise" of bringing black money back from foreign banks during discussion in both houses of parliament. The discussion could not be completed in the Lok Sabha.

In the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Anand Sharma said the BJP had "misled" the country by making tall promises.

He hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying: "In all his pre-poll rallies, the prime minister said Rs.85 lakh crore was in banks abroad. Now the prime minister says he does not know about it."

The Congress attack in the Lok Sabha was led by Mallikarjun Kharge.

Some opposition parties staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha before Jaitley could conclude his reply.

Jaitley said the government was actively engaging with other countries to widen its scope of operations against black money.

He said that as things stood now, the Swiss authorities have been persuaded to at least establish the veracity of any evidence that the Indian government and the special team managed to procure from various sources regarding these accounts.

"In the next stage now, we'll start a dialogue for automatic exchange of information. With countries all over the world we're going to have automatic exchange of tax information", he said.

The finance minister said that of the 627 names of Indians holding bank accounts overseas, that were furnished to the Supreme Court in a sealed envelope, 427 had been identified.

Out of that, he added, 250 had admitted to such accounts.

He said the first act of the Modi government was to constitute a Special Investigation Team to probe the black money issue, and that the panel already had these names.

Jaitley also reiterated what was told to the apex court by the government.

All the 627 accounts in the list are at an HSBC Bank branch in Geneva and the details were secured from the French government.

The data was actually stolen by a bank employee, as a result of which the Swiss authorities had declined help in any manner.

As regards HSBC, the bank said that if the Indian authorities get a no-objection certificate from the account holders, it could then share the relevant details.

Some 50-60 account holders have given their consent, the apex court had been told.

"We are very much on it. The wait is not long," Jaitley said.

"We were hitting a blind wall as to what to do with these information. We are very sincere in our efforts to identify the accounts," he added.

Jaitley said India was going to be in the lead in the fight against black money as deliberated upon recently in the G20 Summit in Australia.

India has no official estimates of illegal money stashed away overseas, but the unofficial ones range from $466 billion to $1.4 trillion.

BJP member Anurag Thakur used the debate on black money in the Lok Sabha to target the Trinamool Congress over the Saradha scam.

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