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Explained: Foreign bank accounts & black money controversy

ANIL SASI recalls and explains over making public the list of people with foreign bank accounts and black money controversy.

Written by Anil Sasi |
October 23, 2014 1:26:24 am

As government, Opposition trade charges over making public the list of people with foreign bank accounts, the black money controversy has returned. ANIL SASI recalls and explains . 

WHAT’S BLACK?

Finance Ministry’s May 2012 white paper defined black money as “the aggregates of incomes which are taxable but not reported to the tax authorities”. A lot of black money is thought to have been converted into gold, and held domestically. It is not illegal to keep money in foreign bank accounts as long as taxes are paid on it.

HOW MUCH IS IT?

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Estimates on the amount of black money differ widely. In 1984, think tank NIPFP, in a study commissioned by the Finance Ministry, estimated it to be 19-21 per cent of the then GDP, or up to Rs 36,000 crore. According to Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based group researching cross-border money transfers, Indians had moved $644 billion to tax havens as of 2011. The same year, the BJP said in a report that Indians had hidden $250 billion, or 20 per cent of the previous year’s GDP, in Switzerland alone. Prof Arun Kumar of JNU, author of The Black Economy in India, after analysing “independent studies and World Bank and IMF data on trade flows”, put the figure at $2 trillion.

BLACK POLITICS

L K Advani raised the issue of black money during the BJP’s 2009 election campaign. Five years later, Narendra Modi and Baba Ramdev alleged the Congress was reluctant to name the people with illegal money abroad. Weeks before the election, P Chidambaram revealed that the government had made repeated, futile requests to the Swiss government on the bank accounts of Indians. Within 24 hours of taking power, the Modi government announced the creation of an investigative team to identify black money and bringing it back. But on Friday, the government faced flak for asking the Supreme Court to modify its order on absolute disclosure of information on suspects, citing tax agreements with other countries — the same argument that the Congress had given, and the BJP had trashed.

GLOBAL TAX PACTS

Many countries, including the US and UK, are cracking down on high net-worth individuals who have not reported offshore funds. India ranked third in the world for money illegally moved overseas in 2011, according to a 2013 GFI report. But sharing information on black money is governed by India’s tax-related pacts with other nations, including several Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements and Tax Information Exchange Agreements. It has also joined the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (Multilateral Convention) and the SAARC Multilateral Agreement.

WHAT’S KNOWN

In June 2011, France provided details of Indians with bank accounts in one Swiss bank, under the provisions of the DTAC between the countries. In March 2009, information on deposits in accounts maintained by 12 trusts and entities with LGT Bank in Liechtenstein was received from the German Tax Authorities under the DTAC between India and Germany. The 12 trusts/entities involved 26 individuals of Indian origin/nationality. In addition, information about bank accounts has been received in specific cases, but these two sources of information are at the heart of India’s ongoing efforts to track black money stashed abroad.

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