Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI: BJP leader L.K. Advani on Sunday raised the issue of bringing back to India the huge amount of Indian money lying in Swiss banks, where secrecy laws were recently undone.

Mr. Advani’s demand came nearly two weeks after the issue was raised by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat. In fact, the CPI(M) manifesto referred to the need to unearth money in Swiss banks. On March 27, Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav also held a press conference on this subject and his party spokesperson had taken it up.

Quoting Wikipedia, which he described as the “most credible” source of information, Mr. Advani said that in 2007, holdings in Swiss banks by Indians were estimated at $5.7 billion, up from $2.6 billion in 2001. He said a four-member committee had been set up to look into the issue and suggest what a government led by him could do.

The members of the committee were: the retired Intelligence Bureau chief, Ajit Doval; Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue S. Gurumurthy; lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani; and professor at the Indian Institute of Management R. Vaidyanathan.

Mr. Advani listed what a government led by him would do with the vast amount of money to be brought home: Opening internet-enabled schools in all villages, providing a network of all-weather roads in the country up to the level of villages, provision of telemedicine facilities and potable drinking water for every habitation and so on.

Did this mean a government led by him would confiscate this black money or the money related to profit from crime? Or would his government tax the persons who hold these accounts and let them keep the rest of the money? Mr. Advani did not commit, saying he left it to the task force to determine what should be done.

Mr. Advani circulated copies of a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister in May last year suggesting India get from the German government confidential data about those Swiss bank accounts. He added: “I do not expect this government [the Manmohan Singh government] to follow this up.”

Mr. Advani also circulated a letter he received from the then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, as a response to his letter to the Prime Minister. Mr. Chidambaram informed him that the government wrote to the German tax office in February 2008 — three months before Mr. Advani’s letter to the Prime Minister — to share information on Indian tax payers with it. In March last year, the Germans said they were not in a position to immediately give this information, but would do so “as soon as they had detailed findings about whether and to what extent Indian tax payers were involved,” Mr. Chidambaram wrote.

Mr. Advani admitted that the code of conduct was in force and the government could not do much ahead of the election.