Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tells how the government plans to deal with the revelation of further names in the HSBC list
The HSBC list is longer than what the government currently has. How do you plan to address this?
The government will certainly investigate the new names that have been released by The Indian Express. We will write to French authorities to get more information and will look into them after identifying those who are residents of India, who are covered under the Indian tax laws. Then the same procedure will follow as we have done in the case of others in the HSBC list.
The list includes many politicians and members of political families who have HSBC accounts, when the previous government had maintained that there were no politicians in it.
I am constrained not to name individuals until the prosecution is filed. I can tell you what the present government’s stand is. We are going all out to bring out the truth and we will do it in a time-bound manner. As far as we are concerned, there are no holy cows.
What is the status of the investigation into the HSBC list available with the government?
All investigations will be over by March 31. The French government has shared a list of 628 account-holders in 2010. I-T has managed to trace 428 account-holders and in 350 cases the assessments are complete. The first prosecution was launched three months ago after taking the opinion of the attorney general [Mukul Rohatgi]. As of date I-T has launched 60 prosecution cases and all assessment will be over by March 31. The 60 cases also cover multiple account-holders in the list as many accounts were jointly held accounts.
Has any major breakthrough been achieved?
A senior delegation led by the revenue secretary had held meetings with his counterpart in Switzerland. The Swiss authorities were categorical in their position that they won’t recognise stolen data. Then we managed to secure an assurance from the Swiss that in case we produce evidence of ill-gotten wealth over and above just the names, they would expedite the sharing of information.
I met Swiss Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf at Davos [during World Economic Forum], where I suggested that in those cases where HSBC account-holders have acknowledged that it’s their accounts, the Swiss may share information. The Swiss finance minister replied in affirmative.
Did you have any further discussion with your Swiss counterpart on exchange of information?
Yes. India has proposed an Automatic Exchange of Information route between Switzerland and India. The Swiss finance minister said she will take the proposal to the Swiss parliament. It may take a few months. The main challenge, besides the present issue of HSBC at hand, is how we institutionalise a framework over the secrecy of information.
India is playing an active role in G-20 countries to move towards an automatic exchange of information route amongst the participating nations. And the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Agreement (FATCA) of US will also be of considerable help as the world move closer towards making the regime of secrecy of information redundant.
Can you confirm if the government has approached Hervé Falciani with an offer if he assists the Indian investigation?
I would not like to comment. What I can tell you is we are proceeding in a very systematic and legally correct way in dealing with the HSBC list.