The Supreme Court on Thursday took a serious view of the Centre's inaction in not subjecting Hasan Ali Khan to custodial interrogation even after the investigating agencies had unearthed sufficient material about his stashing away crores of black money abroad.

A Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar, hearing petitions filed by the former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani, and others, expressed displeasure at the way the Centre was proceeding in the matter.

Expressing his anguish, Justice Reddy told Solicitor-General (SG) Gopal Subramaniam: “What the hell is going on in this country?” When senior counsel Anil Divan, appearing for Mr. Jethmalani, pointed out that repeated adjournments were being given to Mr. Khan by the Enforcement Directorate, Justice Reddy said the authorities were “hoodwinking” everybody and asked whether the same leniency would be shown to petty offenders.

Mr. Khan, who is alleged to have stashed away around $8 billion in foreign banks, was earlier served notice for a tax demand for about Rs 50,000 crore in 2009.

When Mr. Subramaniam explained the efforts taken by the government against the offenders, Justice Reddy asked: “Why had no custodial interrogation taken place so far? There are instances when minor offenders are shot down for violating Section 144 Cr.PC [unlawful assembly], but you don't take any action against these people. We are very sorry. All these people are now free.”

When Mr. Divan drew the court's attention to the transfer of three key officials probing the case of Mr. Khan, Justice Reddy made it clear to Mr. Subramaniam that they should be reinstated forthwith.

Justice Reddy asked the SG to inform the court on March 8 of the action t aken in this regard, and whether Mr. Khan would be subjected to custodial interrogation and whether it could be done in the presence of an officer appointed by the court.

Justice Reddy made it clear to the government that if the response was not satisfactory, the court would be constrained to pass an order on March 8.

The court, at the last hearing, asked the government to ensure that Mr. Khan was not allowed to leave the country.

How many more years?

During the resumed hearing on Thursday Justice Reddy asked the SG: “What is in the way of taking action against Hasan Ali? How many years will investigations continue against Ali?”

When Mr. Divan complained that the Centre was not revealing the names, the SG said the government would reveal the names of persons, who had stashed away black money in foreign banks after registering a formal case against them.

Mr. Divan questioned the government taking shelter under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) for not probing the money deposited with Liechtenstein Bank. He contended that the DTAA did not apply to Indians having accounts in the foreign bank.