At a time when it is accused of doing little to unearth lakhs of crores of rupees stashed abroad illegally, the Centre on Wednesday invoked secrecy provisions of double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) to block all information about its efforts to retrieve them.
In a fresh affidavit filed in the Supreme Court responding to charges of petitioner and noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, the finance ministry said it could not reveal the contents of letters written by the government to various countries seeking details of illegal money kept by Indians.
The petitioner had sought copies of the letter written by India to Germany seeking information about account holders in LGT Bank, Liechtenstein, as well as the reminders sent later.
Jethmalani, a Rajya Sabha MP, had also asked for a copy of the letter dated March 16, 2009, by which the German government had informed India that it was in a position to provide the requisite information about account holders.
However, the Centre made available a copy of the letter written by then Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha L K Advani to the PM on the subject as well as a copy of SEBI’s decision in 2005 to ban UBS Asia from issuing, renewing or rolling over any participatory notes for a period of one year.
For the rest of the requests, which in fact touched upon the core of the controversy relating to the allegation that black money to the tune of Rs 70 lakh crore was stashed abroad, the Centre invoked secrecy clause to blank out information.
“The remaining documents are confidential and cannot be disclosed for following reasons: a) the information pertains to third parties and cannot be disclosed by the government; b) the information is protected under the secrecy provision of DTAA,” the Centre said without elaborating what information fell in which category.
In fact, the Centre through solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam had promised before the apex court during the last hearing that it would pursue amendment to the DTAA with Switzerland to incorporate disclosure clause to force Swiss banks to share information about account holders suspected of parking illegal money.
Subramaniam had also told the SC that Centre was seriously considering invoking the provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the case of Hasan Ali Khan so as to be able to force the foreign entities from sharing vital information with the investigating agency, Enforcement Directorate (ED).