Mr FM, name those 700 names

Don’t play footsie with likely criminals, even terrorists

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | November 28, 2011



The union government’s insistence on keeping the names of 700 entities holding secret accounts in HSBC Bank in Geneva close to its heart reflects how sincere it is about fighting the black money menace. Not only did it grudgingly admit to having received the information from the French government after the media went public, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee justified it saying that the government “will stop getting any further information” if it didn’t “honour international treaties and go public with the names”. He had said the same thing when the German government provided details of 18 Indians having ill-gotten wealth stashed in LGT Bank in Liechtenstein. He said the names would be disclosed only when prosecution starts and the matter comes to the court. Investigations are on, he assured.

There is every reason to disbelieve him and his government. For one, more than two years have passed since LGT Bank details were received. Nothing is known about the progress in investigation. Secondly, in the case of HSBC information has been leaked to suggest that about ' 100 crore have been “recovered” by way of tax dues. This would indicate that there would be no prosecution at least in some cases and that those cases have been closed. This would also suggest that the government is treating it merely as a matter of tax evasion. At least two persons holding high offices have said that this may not always be true. In 2007, the then national security advisor, MK Narayanan, confirmed that terror fund was being routed into the Indian stock market through dubious overseas accounts. Earlier this year, former CBDT chairman Sudhir Chandra told Governance Now, “There is a definite link between the illicit money and a wide range of criminal activities that impinge on the national security issues. In many cases we have come across huge stashes of money coming from dubious sources. These sources could be narcotics, smuggling and terrorism.”

Even if we were to assume that these are simple cases of tax evasion, prudence demands that the source of the money is traced since it is difficult to imagine someone taking such an extraordinary step as to operate a secret account abroad just to avoid tax on legitimate income. We have the Bofors case and more recently, the Madhu Koda episode, to guide us. As for the secrecy clause in international treaties, experts have pointed out that nothing stops public disclosure when the money in question involves criminal activities.

There are more reasons. The HSBC details were squirreled out by an ex-employee before the French government stepped in. In that sense the information may be available outside the official channels. Now there is a buzz in the power corridors that several other countries too have passed on details about many more secret accounts and that the HSBC list may includes the name of three MPs. In such a scenario, the least a responsible government is expected to do is to take people into confidence and assure them that nothing would be done that would jeopardise national security or financial health of the country. And the very first step in that direction would be to name the names. Investigation into the source of ill-gotten wealth and prosecution would then become the next logical steps.

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