Black money: Can't reveal tax evaders, says govt

New Delhi: Under attack from the Supreme Court and the Opposition over stashing of large amount of money in Swiss banks and other tax havens, government today maintained that it cannot disclose information received from foreign entities on black money held by Indians abroad because of absence of Legal framework.
     
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however, dismissed Opposition's criticism that it was not disclosing information because such disclosure could result in the government's fall.
     
"Let us understand the issue. No information can be made available unless there is a legal framework. No sovereign country is going to share information unless there is a legal framework," he told at a press conference explaining the reasons why the government was not in a position to part with information it has obtained from some foreign entities on black money.

However, he said Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and Exchange of Taxation Information Agreement are two instruments under which information can be obtained and the government has already amended pacts with 23 countries to get information from banks.
     
"But the problem is information which we have obtained has come under some conditions of secrecy. Today, if we disclose tomorrow other countries will not give me the information raising an accusing finger that you do not meet international commitments," he said.
     
But Mukherjee also added that "there is a way. As and when the Income Tax Authorities will be in a position to prosecute cases against tax evaders you will come to know".

"Even I have no intention or authority of knowing the names (of those who have stashed black money abroad). The Income Tax officers have statutory powers under which they perform their duties and they are outside the purview of the administrative control of the ministry," Mukherjee added.

Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said there was "no instant solution" to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks and that information with the government cannot be made public due to treaty obligations.
    
"There is no instant solution to bring back what is called black money. We have got some information and that has been provided to us for use in the collection of due taxes," he had said.
    
The issue came for discussion at the last meeting of the Union Cabinet during which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that it was not possible to make specific details about black money parked in Swiss banks.

The case in the Supreme Court is based on a petition filed by a group of people including former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani which asks that black money be retrieved from foreign banks. The government has presented to the Supreme Court a list of 26 Indians who hold accounts in the Liechtenstein Bank in Germany. However, it has said these names cannot be made public because that would violate the terms and conditions of a treaty with Germany.  The court indicated its deep dissatisfaction with this approach.  

The case in the Supreme Court will next be heard on the 27th of this month when the government will have to explain to the court why the names of the account-holders should not be made public.

(With PTI Inputs)