Why hide names of foreign account holders, asks apex court

Friday, January 14, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Friday asked the central government what was its difficulty in disclosing the names of people who have stashed away huge amounts of money in Swiss and German banks in Liechtenstein principality in Europe.

“What is the privilege” in not disclosing their names, asked the apex court bench of Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S.S.Nijjar.

“It is not a case of tax. The issue involved is of serious nature. Keep aside all the things. Let us consider about the persons (those disclosed by the German authorities),” the court told Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium.

“If you dont have them (the names), it is a different matter,” the court said, suggesting that when the government has the names, why cannot these be made public.

At this, Subramanium sought the adjournment of the hearing, saying that he needed to seek instructions from the government.

The matter will come up for hearing Wednesday.

In the course of the hearing, senior counsel Anil Diwan, appearing for petitioner Ram Jethmalani, said the government was deliberately not making the names public.

He said the government was going in a wrong direction by taking the cover of the double taxation treaty between India and Germany. The entire issue concerns black money, Diwan contended.

Jethamalani has moved the apex court seeking directions to the central government to act on the report that the German government was willing to share the details of Indians who were having accounts in the banks based in Liechtenstein.

Jethamalani has sought the courts directions to the government to bring back ill-gotten $1.5 trillion put away in foreign banks by Indians.

The German government had said that it accessed the information on the details of the account holders through its sources.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), in its status report during last hearing of the case, said there are twelve trusts owned by 26 tax assesses, which even include NRIs, that hold accounts in the Swiss and German banks in Liechtenstein.

There are 15 banks in Liechtenstein, of which seven are Swiss. The principality, with an area of about 160 sq km, is surrounded by Switzerland and Austria and has a total population of 67,000 people.

Filed under: Court, Immigration

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