India names three in black money recovery effort

India names three in black money recovery effort
Narendra Modi has launched a countrywide campaign to collect iron to build the statue.

In the run-up to the general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then still in opposition, promised to bring back money that rich Indians had stashed away overseas within 100 days of taking power.

The five-month-old Modi government is now finding the task of recovering black money easier said than done.

It has come under fire after it managed to disclose to the Supreme Court only three names, out of about 800, of Indians with overseas bank accounts being scrutinised for wrongdoing, including tax evasion.

Mr Pradip Burman, a former executive of Indian major Dabur India, bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhia and businesswoman Radha S. Timblo, were named in court documents for allegedly having unaccounted-for funds deposited overseas, according to Indian media reports.

While the two men denied any wrongdoing and Ms Timblo said she was waiting for details that could prove wrongdoing, critics slammed the government for not naming any politicians.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hinted last week that a former Congress minister is on the list.

"Releasing three names out of 800 names, there has to be some rationale. What is it? Also, releasing three names and hinting there might be Congress politicians, are we to believe there are no black-money holders in the BJP or supporters of the BJP?" said Mr Jagdish Chhokar, founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

The problem of black money is faced by all governments, but the scale of the problem in India, which is essentially a cash economy, is massive.

Some believe that India's black-money economy is as big or bigger than its actual economy, with one estimate putting the figure at US$343 billion (S$437.4 billion) between 2002 and 2011.

Though the previous Congress government took steps to gather information from countries like France and Germany, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a focus of his election campaign and now of his government.

After taking office, he set up a team headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and comprising top officers from 10 investigative and enforcement agencies to track down offshore funds.

The government also intensified efforts to get details of account holders from Switzerland, which only this year agreed to cooperate with Indian authorities.

After the names were revealed yesterday, the BJP said it was a "historic day" in the fight against black money and promised to disclose more names.

The Congress called the release of names "selective" and "suspicious", and said it hoped the "name and shame" move was not politically motivated.

Analysts said that just naming the suspects was not enough.

"We need to stop the creation of black money," said Mr Ashutosh Kumar Mishra, executive director of Transparency International India.

A big chunk of black money is found in the real estate market where sellers often ask to be paid in cash to avoid paying taxes.

The government's move to name individuals has unnerved corporates, with the Associated Chambers of Commerce warning against a "wild goose chase".

"If names are placed in the public domain and those named eventually do not get convicted, there would be immense damage to the reputation of the individuals or entities," its secretary-general D.S. Rawat said.

gnirmala@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 28, 2014.
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