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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Sleuths on cash mountain trail

March 8: Mumbai was today abuzz with reports that the income-tax department has stumbled upon unaccounted wealth of hundreds of crores of rupees apparently stashed away in at least 10 Swiss accounts but the government remained tight-lipped on the amount.

Leaks suggested that the sum involved could be as high as Rs 32,000 crore. However, officials in Delhi insisted the amounts in seven of the frozen accounts are still being verified.

The trail to the Swiss accounts surfaced first when the tax department raided the properties of a Pune-based businessman in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad in January this year.

A television channel said a Calcutta businessman, related to a prominent industrial house, was questioned in connection with the case. Contacted, the businessman told The Telegraph: “I am at a hospital. Someone is seriously ill. I cannot talk now.”

The raids were carried out after the investigators came to hear that the Pune businessman had not filed tax returns for several years despite “owning a stud farm”. However, a racing enthusiast in Pune said the businessman does not have a stud farm but he and his wife own around 40 horses.

“The husband and wife (she’s a horse trainer’s sister) are regular fixtures at the races, but he has not been known to place heavy bets,” the source said.

Sources said tax officials found details of the Swiss accounts in a laptop in the businessman’s house in Pune. The businessman later denied that the laptop belonged to him.

The details were passed on to the enforcement directorate, which probes foreign exchange transactions and money laundering. The directorate sent a four-member team to Switzerland last month to collect information about the accounts.

Officials said the information is still being “processed”. A statement from the Union finance ministry confirmed the search, adding that “indications of certain foreign accounts were found”. “At this stage, it is not possible to confirm the quantum of evasion as the matter is still under investigation.”

The sources said the CBI and the Research and Analysis Wing — the external intelligence agency — are also being kept in the picture to find out whether the money has been used for any subversive activities.

The law enforcement agencies are suspecting that the businessman could have been laundering money on behalf of some prominent politicians and corporate houses.

The businessman’s Pune-based lawyer, Viraj Kakade, denied that his client possessed any Swiss accounts. “It is true that IT and ED had conducted raids on his properties on January 5, but all they found was cash of Rs 85 lakh. I believe that ED visited Switzerland, but did not find any such evidence.”

Kakade said the 50-year-old businessman had left for Mumbai last night. Sources said the businessman recently fell out with a well-known family facing an inheritance-related dispute.

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