I-T dept to file complaint against HSBC Geneva before Mar 31

New Delhi: The Income Tax department is soon expected to file a complaint against HSBC bank, Geneva, for allegedly "abetting" tax evasion in India by way of unauthorisedly operating accounts of its citizens in its overseas branch.

Sources said the complaint against the global banking giant is expected to be filed under Section 278 of the I-T Act (abetment of false return) before March 31 as these accounts pertain to the time period of 2006-07 and would get "time barred" after that date.

The department, a senior I-T officer said, has taken upon itself to file these cases after informing the Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money, which is understood to have given its go ahead.

The taxman, sources said, has worked on at least four cases figuring in the purported 'HSBC lists' it got from France a few years back and gathered evidence against the bank to say that it "wilfully abetted" tax evasion in India by not disclosing client information and layering it to avoid law enforcement agencies, thus leading to violation of I-T laws and evasion of huge amounts in taxes.

"The evidence has been vetted at the senior-most level in the department and the CBDT. The prosecution complaint against the bank would seek punishment under tax laws," the sources said.

When approached by PTI, HSBC, however, declined to comment. In the four cases, the I-T probe has recorded statements of the bank account holders who said they were "aided and helped" by the bank in not disclosing their cash movements and balances. These clients have also submitted some email communications exchanged in this regard.

The probe in the HSBC-Geneva cases, with names of 628 entities, gathered momentum recently as a number of cases under this category are getting time-barred by the end of this financial year, meaning they cannot be acted against after the said time period.

The SIT has also widened its probe into these cases after revelations in this regard were made recently by ICIJ -- a global collective of journalists.

Details of more than 1,00,000 account holders around the world, including over 1,000 from India, were claimed to have been disclosed through a joint investigation by ICIJ.

The entire HSBC list features names of 1,668 Indians while the number of actionable cases stands at 1,195 after taking into account duplication and other factors. Collectively, these accounts had a balance of USD 4.1 billion (Rs 25,420 crore) till 2007.

In the list published recently, there are 2,699 accounts linked to 1,688 Indians. Of these, 1,403 accounts were opened between 1969 and 2006 while the maximum amount of money associated with a client connected to India was USD 876.3 million.

Earlier, India had received from France a list of over 628 Indians with accounts in HSBC's Geneva branch in Switzerland. That list was also part of the larger 'HSBC list', which a former bank employee had "secreted away" and handed to the French government.

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