The government on Monday disclosed in the Supreme Court eight more names against whom it has initiated prosecution under the Income Tax Act for allegedly stashing black money in foreign banks.
Those who have been named are: Dabur India promoter Pradip Burman, bullion trader Pankaj Chamanlal Lodhiya, Goa mining company Timblo Private Ltd and five of its directors — Radha Satish Timblo, Chetan S Timblo, Rohan S Timblo, Anna C Timblo and Mallika R Timblo. The names were received from French authorities and other countries.
Promising to disclose more names in future, the government said in its affidavit that it was “keen to unearth black money held abroad” and it would “use all diplomatic and legal means and also all investigating agencies to obtain information that could assist in such unearthing.”
Stating that it had “absolutely no intention” of withholding such information, the government said it, however, wanted “certain clarification” to enable it to enter into and further honour its agreements with other countries.
While the Supreme Court, in its 2011 order, had directed complete disclosure of information on people who have black money abroad, the government today made it clear that it was open to disclosing information received under tax treaties only “after following the due process of law, in all cases where evasion of tax is established.” It said information would become public only after “investigations are complete and a complaint/ prosecution is filed in a competent court.”
Further, the government said no names could be disclosed even in a proceeding instituted through a PIL “unless there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing”.
The affidavit also said that every account held by an Indian in a foreign bank may not be illegal and the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 could not be ignored. Citing the treaties and agreements that compelled it to reveal information only for tax purposes, it said the government ought to follow the procedures prescribed in the legal instruments through which such information had been received.
“Thus, a clarification is essential which will enable the Government of India to give a commitment to our current and prospective treaty partners that the information received will be used only for tax purposes and such other purposes as permitted in terms of the applicable treaty and can be disclosed in public court proceedings only after a complaint/ prosecution for tax evasion is filed,” it said.
The government told the court the choice was “either not to receive information at all or receive it and use it as per international standards of confidentiality.”
The development comes a day before the government is set to defend its fresh argument that sovereign treaties constrain it from revealing details of people being probed for stashing black money in foreign banks.
Earlier in the day, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi obtained Chief Justice of India H L Dattu’s permission for filing the additional affidavit, which came across more like a justification of the government’s application filed on October 16, besides being an attempt to negate the opinion that it was against disclosure of information in the matter.
In a repeat of the line taken by the previous UPA government, the application had invoked arguments on “diplomatic relations, international commitments and confidentiality clauses” to urge the Supreme Court to modify its 2011 order. It had also questioned the court’s authority to issue orders with ramifications on the government’s power to enter into agreements with foreign governments.
In its latest affidavit, the government said the Swiss government had indicated its willingness to provide information on “stolen data” containing names of Indians who have allegedly stashed black money in banks there. It said the development was significant since it had earlier refused to provide the information.
In April this year, the then UPA government had revealed to the court the names of 18 persons facing prosecution for allegedly stashing black money in Germany’s LST bank. The court had then asked the government to disclose the names of eight other individuals who had been probed in the matter but against whom no evidence of tax evasion was found.
The government’s affidavit said such a disclosure did not appear to be in consonance with the principle that disclosure should follow establishment of a prima facie case of tax evasion.