Lifting the veil that has for years shrouded the names of those who allegedly stashed money away in Swiss banks, India Against Corruption on Friday released a list of 10, including a politician and heads of corporate houses, and charged HSBC Bank with running ‘hawala’ (money laundering) transactions.
In a daring expose, IAC members alleged that Mukesh and Anil Ambani and Congress MP Anu Tandon, among others, had crores of rupees sitting in Swiss banks. This information, they said, was based on a list of 10 account-holders in HSBC banks in Switzerland that was passed on to them by a senior Congress leader and cross-checked by them independently. Those named were part of the list of 700 people who had accounts with HSBC banks in Switzerland. The list was shared by the French government with India, which, however, did not reveal any name, and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court.
This was the tip of the ice-berg, the IAC members said. Charging the Manmohan Singh government with protecting the guilty, they said: “It is the biggest threat to the economic sovereignty of the country.”
In its most serious allegation yet, IAC charged HSBC Bank in India with involvement in ‘hawala’ transactions, as revealed by the depositions of three “small fish” account-holders whose premises were raided last year.
“You don’t even have to go to Dubai or Geneva [Switzerland] to open a Swiss bank to deposit your unaccounted money. HSBC Bank is openly and brazenly running a hawala racket in India, making the country vulnerable to terrorist money, drug money and ransom money. Someone comes and collects rupees from your house, and its equivalent in euros or dollars is deposited in a Swiss account opened for you. It can work in the reverse order, too, if someone wants to spread terror in the country,” IAC members Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan said at a press conference here.
Demanding action against the bank and its top officials, they urged the 30,000-odd employees of HSBC to quit the bank “in the national interest.” They also demanded the “immediate arrest” of those who indulged in money- laundering transactions.
“In July 2011, the Indian government received a list of roughly 700 people having bank accounts in HSBC, Switzerland. The list contains… balances of these people on that day in 2006. It shows the Ambani brothers as having Rs. 100 crore each, Ms. Tandon as having Rs. 125 crore, including another Rs.125 crore in the name of her late husband Sandeep, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal as having Rs. 80 crore, three Burman brothers as having Rs. 25 crore. An account of Reliance Industries Ltd. had a balance of Rs. 500 crore and another Reliance company, Motech Software Private Ltd., showed a balance of Rs. 2,100 crore. Kokila Dhirubhai Ambani and Yashovardhan Birla had accounts, but no balance on that day,” Mr. Kejriwal said.
“Our sources told us that Mukesh Ambani came to the Finance Ministry when the list of 700 Swiss account-holders was provided to India. He requested the Ministry not to raid Reliance Industries as he was willing to pay up the taxes to ‘buy peace’,” he said.
“Questioning the then Finance Minister’s move to grant these people immunity from prosecution under the Income Tax Act, Mr. Kejriwal said he had even planned an amnesty scheme for all the 700.
According to him, the present CBI Director once said that more than Rs.25,00,000 crore of Indian ‘black’ money was stashed away abroad while the Indian government said Rs.6,000 crore was deposited in Swiss banks.
Pointing to the action taken by the U.S. against the Switzerland-based UBS AG that was used to evade federal income taxes, Mr. Kejriwal said: “Like America, we should enact a law that makes it mandatory for foreign banks to furnish [the government with] a list of all Indian account-holders…”