Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indian Govt refuses to to request secret bank data

In the 80's and 90's, a lot of films had the concept of a secret Swiss account held by a politician or a corrupt government official, and the mission always was to either get the corrupt minister in some way or to get details of the secret account. Typically, Swiss banks (as well as banks in many other regions that are known as tax havens and where ill-gotten wealth is hidden) will not reveal data until it can be conclusively proved that there is something illegal involved in all this.
Another haven where such a banking setup exists is the small country of Liechtenstein, a small landlocked country between Austria and Switzerland. It also has a banking setup which is seen as a haven for people seeking to store their money, and hence a target for people wanting to investigate corruption. Now imagine, that the Indian Government can freely obtain such information about bank records; won't any Government jump at the chance to obtain such information and unmask people who have salted away their money.
Well, apparently not the Congress Government. It seems so surprising that the Government is not making any move to request such information that a person could easily suspect that senior Congressmen or people at the very top also find a name in such a list, and hence are hoping that this blows over and they are not unmasked. It is yet another blow to the credibility of this now discredited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that a newspaper can openly question as to why the Government is not pursing this information ?

Investigators in India might have their best chance yet to trace those Indians who have stashed away millions in the tiny tax haven of Liechtenstein, a small landlocked country between Austria and Switzerland, provided the Manmohan Singh government asks for the information on offer. The dope on hundreds of rich Indians who have black money parked in Liechtenstein could be made available to the authorities here as the German government, which has obtained a list of account holders at Liechtenstein’s LTG Bank, is willing to part with the names.
Several countries including the US, the UK, Canada, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Ireland have already used the opportunity to zero in on their citizens who have evaded taxes and smuggled their wealth to the principality, the sixth-smallest country in the world. But Transparency International says India has maintained 'a stoic silence over the issue and has not approached the German government for this data'. Suspecting that the government's chariness could stem from fears that influential politicians and industrialists might be compromised by the Liechenstein data, TI has, in a statement, said: "It is alleged that this money belongs to rich and powerful politicians, industrialists and stock brokers and that is why the reluctance on the part of government of India (to get details from Germany)."

This refusal by the Government is very surprising and it is actually causing a great deal of suspicion about the reasons for the Government to not try and get this information. It is very much possible that Congress and allies, not particularly known for their honesty, have hidden wealth over there, and the Government could face a lot of problems if this information is revealed.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:43 AM