New Delhi, Nov. 9: The “Lagarde List”, which has dug out financial skeletons in Greece, appears to have been made public in India today when activist Arvind Kejriwal unveiled his latest expose.
Kejriwal today accused HSBC bank of indulging in money laundering and claimed that the Ambani brothers, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal, the Burman brothers of Dabur and Congress MP Annu Tandon had parked their black money in its Geneva branch. All named have denied the allegations.
The activist claimed that Mukesh and Anil Ambani had Rs 100 crore each, Reliance Group’s Motech Software Rs 2,100 crore, Annu Tandon and her husband Sandeep, who is no more, Rs 125 crore each, Goyal Rs 80 crore and the Burman brothers Rs 25 crore on the list of around 700 people with accounts in HSBC as of 2006.
Kejriwal did not utter the coinage “Lagarde List” but sources in his camp said the information about black money totalling Rs 6,000 crore parked in the 700 accounts of the Geneva branch of HSBC was handed over to the Indian government in a compact disc in 2011 by the then French finance minister.
Till June 2011, the French finance minister was Christine Lagarde, the current IMF director. The information came to be known as “Lagarde List” because she had handed it to Greece in 2010. Last week, a Greek magazine published the list, which contained several prominent names and the controversy is raging in that country now.
In India, the government has so far refused to make public the names on two lists — one was given by the French and the other by the Germans. Whistleblowers are suspected to have given or sold the data to the two foreign governments.
Pranab Mukherjee, the then finance minister, had cited international agreements to keep the list confidential. The matter is pending in the Supreme Court.
It appears that the roster made public by Kejriwal today is the purported French list, although the activist said he did not have any “official documents”.
Kejriwal injected an intriguing element by saying the source of his information was a senior Congress leader but refused to name the politician. “A senior Congress leader has shared this information with us,” Kejriwal said.
He added that another Congress minister who was recently sworn in had sent him a text message that the activists should keep up the pressure on their campaign against Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.
He accused HSBC of laundering unaccounted money of Indian citizens by facilitating opening of undisclosed accounts in Switzerland.
Kejriwal and lawyer Prashant Bhushan claimed that the income-tax department raided some of the 700 Indians but spared the “big fish” like the Ambanis and that this was done at the “behest” of the UPA government.
Kejriwal said the Centre refused to put the list in the public domain but shared it with the Ambanis and HSBC, allowing the bank to send an apology note to the Ambanis and 600-odd others warning them they should “please take care of themselves”.
The activists cited purported statements of three of the 700 account-holders to income tax officials. According to the statements, HSBC representatives facilitated opening of the accounts and depositing unaccounted money on their behalf and they didn’t need to travel to Geneva to operate these accounts.
“There is no physical transfer of money. This is money laundering,” Kejriwal said.
Kejriwal claimed that MP Annu Tandon’s late husband Sandeep was an Indian Revenue Service officer and later joined the Reliance Industries group. Kejriwal said Sandeep had raided Reliance. “Isn’t it strange that he then went to work for the same company?” he asked, adding that both sons of the couple work for Reliance.
Annu, elected from Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, termed Kejriwal’s allegations “frivolous and malicious”. “My husband is dead. I have nothing to say on these allegations. It is not right on the part of Kejriwal to make such loose comments,” Annu said.
The Mukesh Ambani-headed RIL said “neither RIL nor Mukesh Ambani have or had any illegitimate accounts anywhere in the world”.
It said RIL had business interests in several countries with turnover of thousands of crores in rupees. “As a part of their normal business, these international subsidiaries of RIL deal with several global banks, including HSBC. These accounts are fully compliant with all regulations and are disclosed in their appropriate jurisdictions and in India. The continued tirade of baseless allegations being made by IAC (India Against Corruption) against us appears to be instigated by vested interests,” it said.
A spokesperson for Anil Ambani “categorically denied all allegations made by IAC” against him. The spokesperson said that Anil “had no bank accounts with HSBC in Geneva. It is regrettable that such baseless allegations are being made by IAC at the behest of vested interests”.
A spokesperson for Naresh Goyal also dismissed IAC’s allegations. “There is no account in the name of Mr. Naresh Goyal in the Swiss bank as has been alleged. Besides, Mr. Naresh Goyal has been an NRI since January 1991. He is entitled to have bank accounts outside India. The suggestion that there has been any unaccounted money stashed away in Swiss accounts is entirely false,” a statement issued by Jet Airways said.
The Burman brothers of Dabur group said that they had opened accounts in foreign banks when they were NRIs and were legally allowed to do so. “...It is unfortunate that every person having a foreign bank account is being painted with the same brush,” Dabur India said in a statement.
It said the money had been sent out of the declared and tax-assessed incomes received in India. The amounts have been officially remitted from India through official banking channels and in line with applicable Fema guidelines, Dabur said.
“The complete details regarding the remittances have been voluntarily, and as per law, filed with the income tax department, and appropriate taxes paid as applicable,” it added.
HSBC reacted cautiously to Kejriwal’s charge. The bank said it has noted “certain allegations made today. The bank cannot comment on the specific details of the allegations that have been made, which relate to issues in the past”.
It added: “HSBC takes compliance with the law, wherever it operates, very seriously. With a new senior global leadership team and a new strategy in place since last year, HSBC continues to take concrete steps to strengthen compliance, risk management and culture.”
Kejriwal’s claims come at a delicate time for HSBC. The controversy in India coincided with a report in the UK that HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, was at the centre of an investigation after it opened offshore accounts in Jersey for serious criminals living in Britain.
According to The Daily Telegraph, London, UK tax authorities have obtained details of every British client of HSBC in Jersey, an island off Normandy in France, after a whistleblower secretly provided a detailed list of names, addresses and account balances earlier this week.
The newspaper said that among those identified on the list are Daniel Bayes, a drug dealer who is now in Venezuela; Michael Lee, who was convicted of possessing more than 300 weapons at his house in Devon; three bankers facing major fraud allegations and a man once dubbed London’s “number two computer crook”.
The paper said the disclosures raised serious questions about HSBC’s procedures in Jersey, with the bank already preparing to pay fines of around $1.5 billion in America for breaking money laundering rules.
The Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for the bank as saying: “HSBC has a duty of confidentiality and cannot comment on clients even to confirm or deny they are clients. We have good relationships with our regulators and co-operate with investigations when required to do so.”