New Delhi: With five hundred Indians being named and identified in a global investigation into offshore dealings, the government, on Monday, formed a multi-agency group to monitor exposes in this regard and vowed to take action against all “unlawful” accounts held abroad.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the issue with him on Monday morning and on his advice, the group, which consists of agencies such as CBDT, RBI and FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit), has been set up.
The special investigation team (SIT) on black money also said it will investigate thoroughly the reported secret list exposed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
“The multi-agency group will comprise various government agencies – the CBDT, FIU, FT&TR (Foreign Tax and Tax Research) and RBI. They will continuously monitor these (accounts) and whichever accounts are found to be unlawful, strict action as per existing laws will be taken,” Jaitley said.
His comments came on a day the Indian Express carried a report, based on leaked documents of a Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which identified how global tycoons, politicians and famous personalities had links to various companies and accounts in a number of offshore tax havens.
The India list includes Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and a number of prominent industrialists including the promoters behind the Apollo Tyres group. Jaitley said that after Monday’s revelations, more names may come out in the next few days.
“I welcome this investigation. I think it is a healthy step that these kind of exposes are being made. I have been repeatedly saying that the world is now going to increasingly become more transparent, countries are cooperating with each other and slowly all this information is going to come out as a result of various global initiatives which have been launched,” he said.
Stating that the ‘Panama Papers’ give details of accounts and assets held by some Indian entities in Panama, Jaitley said this was the fourth such investigation that had brought out been made.
“The first related to Liechtenstein accounts against all persons involved in that prosecutions have already been launched. Assessment orders have been passed. Then details came in 2011 with regard to HSBC account holders. 569 out of those account holders have been traced. 390 were illegal and already 154 set of prosecutions have been filed,” he said.
The minister further said that detailed assessment orders have led to the discovery of illegal assets worth around Rs 6,500 crore. “The prosecutions are taking their normal course and assessment proceedings and their consequential actions are on,” he said.
In 2013 the ICIJ had published a list of 700 persons which was analysed, he said, adding, “434 Indian entities have been traced. 184 out of them admitted their relationship with the accounts and the process of passing assessment and prosecuting them is now on. Already 52 prosecutions have been filed by income tax authorities.”
Jaitley further said that in view of the commitment of the central government to bring out undisclosed money both from abroad and from within the country, “the information brought out by any investigative journalism is welcome.”
He further said that although, in the previous report of ICIJ, information relating to the financial transactions and bank accounts was not available, the government detected credit in the undisclosed foreign accounts of such Indian persons in excess of Rs 2,000 crores.
Official sources said the Income Tax department has “taken cognisance” of the news reports and are “looking into it” as per the directions of the panel.
“Other agencies in the panel will act as and when the data is shared on the SIT platform,” they said.
They, however, said some of the entities named in the list are already being investigated by ED and IT department either by way of their disclosures made to them under the law or by way of intelligence inputs received in the past.