The Supreme Court today took strong exception to the Enforcement Directorate filing an “unsigned” status report about its investigations into the issue of black money stashed in foreign banks.
The apex court returned the unsigned status report which was placed before it in the sealed cover to the investigating agency making it clear that “it will not accept the report which has not been signed by any official.”
“We want to look into the status report but we will not accept it as it is not signed. You have to place before us a signed status report,” a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said while asking the ED to apprise it of progress in its investigation by December 10.
During the hearing, the Centre claimed privilege over some documents and said it could not make them public as it would jeopardise the investigation carried out so far.
“I know that the matter is of public interest. We have done the investigation. I don’t want to bring it in the public domain. I don’t want the investigation to get jeopardised,” Additional Solicitor General Parag Tripathi said.
However, the Bench said the petitioner was not making submission to jeopardise the investigation but wanted to know what has happened to the probe since September last year.
“In September 2009, a notice was issued in the matter. We want to know what has happened in the matter,” the Bench said.
Senior advocate Anil Divan, appearing for noted jurist Ram Jethamalani and others who have filed a PIL on black money, submitted the Centre should make public the status report on the probe done by its agencies.
Mr. Tripathi, who disfavoured making public the status report on the investigation, gave example of the 9/11 Mumbai terror attack and said live footage of the incident was used by the terrorists to help themselves.
“I don’t like this thing to happen in this matter (investigation into the issue of black money). If the documents are made public, it will help the offenders. I don’t want to jeopardise the investigation,” he said.
However, his stand was opposed by Mr. Divan who said that looking at it with that of terrorist angle was different from the criminality involved in the present matter.
He was objecting to the stand of the Department of Revenue which was not giving the documents relating to the showcause notice issued on December 29, 2008, to Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali Khan against whom the Enforcement Directorate had lodged a complaint for violating Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
Mr. Divan said it is the admitted position of the ED that no action has been taken for money laundering under FEMA against Khan who was in contact with Adnan Khasogi, an arms dealer from Saudi Arabia.
“Khan is criminally involved in money laundering but no action has been taken. You just say I (ED) have applied to Swiss government (to know about the money stashed by him),” Mr. Divan said adding Khan obviously is a front man for somebody else.
The senior advocate said Khan is more than a person who is involved in horse racing.
Besides Mr. Jethmalani, five others, including former Punjab DGP K P S Gill and former Secretary General of Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap who are petitioners, have alleged the government was not taking action to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks.
The petition has also been filed by an NGO, People’s Political Front and former top cop Julio F Riberio and others on the issue.
Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the NGO, submitted that when German government offered a chance to the account holders in Liechtenstein Bank from different countries to disclose their assets within 30 days in 2009 for availing amnesty, people from many European nations availed the benefit and made voluntary disclosure of their bank account.
However, the benefit of that offer was not availed in India.
She said had the authorities in India acted, the result would have been different.
“Now, it gave opportunity to those in India to transfer the money from Liechtenstein Bank to some other banks in other country and therefore, the money trail has been lost,” she submitted.
During the earlier hearing, Mr. Jethmalani and others had sought permission of the apex court to cross-examine a senior revenue officer who filed an affidavit claiming immunity from disclosing some documents relating to the issue of black money in foreign banks.
The application said their plea for disclosing 21 documents in connection with the steps taken by the government to bring back the black money was not disclosed with an intention to hide the truth and protect some influential persons.
The affidavit filed on July 22 by the Director, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, had said it cannot disclose 16 of the 21 documents sought by the petitioner.
Mr. Jethmalani had in the application said there was no reason cited for claiming immunity from disclosing the documents.