Shortly after his Ministry announced the Government’s response to The Indian Express investigation of The Panama Papers, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke Monday evening with Ritu Sarin, who is leading the investigation:
This Government has repeatedly talked about the need to track hidden foreign assets and wealth. How does an expose like The Panama Papers take that forward?
I am of the view that by 2017, the world will become a more and more transparent place. Several initiatives have been taken like the G20 initiatives and the FAFT (Financial Action Task Force). Gradually, players in tax havens are being prevailed upon to yield. The environment of greater transparency internationally is pushing them to make disclosures.
Do you consider this a major black money trail?
I think exposes (The Panama Papers in The Indian Express) like this one will make things more transparent. And we welcome them. That is why we have acted without any waste of time and I have just now signed a notification for setting up a multi-agency group to examine these revelations and this will be monitored closely by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Finance Ministry. There are so many agencies involved and this Group will have representation from all of them. This is being done despite the fact that we already have a Special Investigating Team (SIT) in place. Examining and initiating action on all the information relevant to India coming in from the Panama Papers will be the task before them.
How do you look at the period from the time when details of a clutch of Liechtenstein accounts were given to India to this period when evidence has come up of hundreds of offshore entities?
This is the fifth such strain of information that has come to the Indian Government. The first, yes, was Liechtenstein; the second was the ICIJ expose on British Virgin Islands; the third was the HSBC accounts (all three were investigated and first reported by The Indian Express) and the fourth, I would say, were pieces of information that came in, incidentally, to the (Finance) Department from a variety of sources. This is the fifth such batch of detail that has reached the Government.
After, say, the arrival of the HSBC account details, the NDA Government brought in the compliance scheme. Now that the compliance window has ended, isn’t there a greater onus on alleged tax offenders?
The Government is clear in its resolve is what I will say. There are no holy cows for us. Action will be taken against whoever is found to be in default.