The Indian government, on Wednesday, submitted a list of over 600 Indians suspected to have untaxed wealth, or “black money,” in offshore accounts, to the country’s Supreme Court. The court asked for the list to be forwarded to a Special Investigation Team, or SIT, set up by the Narendra Modi-led government in June, according to local media reports.
Indians hold as much as $500 billion in illegal funds in overseas tax havens, including in Switzerland and Mauritius, according to an estimate from the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI. Several activists have alleged that the income derived from India’s flourishing black money economy is used to fund election campaigns of a number of politicians.
“The court, after hearing the Centre's arguments, did not open the cover but directed that the sealed covers should be given to the Special Investigation Team probing the case today itself,” Mukul Rohatgi, the attorney general of India, reportedly said, adding that the court had also directed the government to share the list with the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate -- the Indian federal agency in charge of investigating financial crimes.
The list contains the names of 627 Indians, including a number of Indians living overseas, according to media reports. Rohatgi reportedly said that all the people named in the list have accounts with a Geneva branch of the British bank HSBC. The information was disclosed by an employee of the bank in 2011, and it was eventually passed on to the previous administration, according to media reports.
The government handed over the names to the court just two days after disclosing the names of seven people and one company it said were being prosecuted over accusations of concealing wealth. This had reportedly sparked accusations that the Modi government was trying to conceal the identities of some of the people in the list, and prompted the Supreme Court to step in and order the government to reveal all the names.
The BJP government, which came to power in May, has consistently accused the previous Manmohan Singh-led Congress government of protecting these account holders and has alleged that a number of senior Congress party members also have illegal funds stashed in offshore tax havens.
India’s Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley had earlier said that the disclosure of the names would cause “some embarrassment” to the Congress party, according to local media reports.
The Supreme Court has reportedly set a deadline of March 31, 2015, for the SIT to complete its probe and begin legal action against tax evaders.