NEW DELHI: Apart from the three names disclosed on Monday, speculation was rife over the alleged presence of four Congress politicians on the list of Indians with black money stashed in Swiss bank accounts. A former UPA minister, two sons of a well-known Maharashtra politician, who was a minister and lost the recent Assembly elections, and a UP leader reportedly form the quartet.
Hotly pursued by the media, Preneet Kaur, former MoS for External Affairs and wife of ex-Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, denied having overseas accounts. Singh incidentally was elected to the Lok Sabha from Amritsar, drubbing BJP’s Arun Jaitley. “In keeping with my reply to the I-T department, I would like to state that I never have had and do not have any bank account(s) overseas in my name with any foreign bank,” Kaur said in a statement. According to sources, the I-T department traced a “zero balance” account to Kaur, who claimed to be a “victim of mistaken identity”.
Sources added that former Maharashtra minister Narayan Rane’s sons Nitish and Nilesh Rane too had been served I-T notices for having accounts in HSBC Switzerland. The name of the Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh could not be confirmed.
The third name was that of a Congress MP from UP and a relatively new entrant in politics. But sources in the I-T department refused to confirm the MP’s identity.
A list of the alleged ‘illicit’ account holders of HSBC Switzerland, was leaked to the French authorities by a disgruntled employee of the bank around 2008. The French, in turn, shared the list that named around 700 Indians with the then UPA government. The UPA dragged its feet citing international (double taxation) treaties and the requirement of a court-monitored investigation before the bank’s privacy clause could be overlooked.
The Swiss National Banking Association (SNBA) has been sharing details of black money held in their accounts with the EU and the US after the G-20 applied pressure post the 2008 economic meltdown. In India, the issue became a political hot potato for the Congress after the BJP, particularly Narendra Modi, took it up in a big way during campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. In the past few weeks, Jaitley first cited international agreements to justify the delay in disclosing the names. However, the PM was later quoted by a senior minister as having told the Cabinet that the names of “black money” account holders should be disclosed without much ado.
In the opposition now, the Congress had been doing what the BJP did - demand immediate disclosure of the names of black money holders. This has led to a virtual slanging match between the two with Jaitley retorting in an interview that the Congress may be in for some embarrassment when the names actually come out.
Reacting to this, his predecessor P Chidambaram said that the Congress party never asked any of its members to maintain illegal bank accounts in tax havens nor was it the party’s money. He added that the Congress cannot be blamed for acts of commission and omission by individuals.
The issue is bound to heat up with senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani writing scathing letters to Jaitley and Modi, countering the government’s view that names of all black money holders cannot be disclosed before due procedure.