New Delhi, April 29: The Centre today placed before the Supreme Court a list of 26 Indians who it said had stashed away funds in a bank in Liechtenstein, a tax haven in the Rhine valley between Austria and Switzerland that is Europe’s fourth smallest nation with an area of just 159sqkm.
The government made public the names of 18 people on the list, saying it had found evidence of tax evasion against them and had started cases. (See chart)
But its affidavit said no evidence of tax evasion had been found against the eight others, implying the sums they have allegedly deposited with the bank are not black money. Their names have been given to the court in a sealed cover.
The 18 whose names have been revealed include Harshad Ramniklal Mehta, chairman of the Antwerp-based Rosy Blue and one of the world’s biggest diamond merchants; K.M. Mammen, chairman and managing director of tyre maker MRF Ltd; Hasmukh Ishwarlal Gandhi, MD of Mumbai-based Millennium Herbal Care; and Ashok Jaipuria, chairman of Cosmo Ferrites and Cosmo Films, based in Solan (Himachal Pradesh).
Several Calcuttans feature on the list: veteran stockbroker Manoj Dhupelia and several family members, and Chandrakant Ishwarlal Gandhi, MD of Dolphin Labs.
The government’s disclosures appeared to corroborate rumours swirling since 2008 when a former employee of LGT Bank of Liechtenstein had reportedly handed over the details of 1,400 account holders to the German tax authorities.
Later, the Germans were reported to have passed on the details of 26 Indian account holders to Indian tax authorities, prompting investigations into their previous tax filings.
The Centre has not made public how much money it believes those on the list have socked away in trusts created with the LGT Bank of Liechtenstein, though some media reports in 2011 had put the figure at around Rs 40 crore.
Solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran gave this information, too, to the court in a sealed cover. The bench of Justices H.L. Dattu, Ranjana Prakash Desai and Madan B. Lokur has posted the next hearing for Thursday.
The most important name on the list is that of Harshad Ramniklal Mehta, co-founder of Rosy Blue, which was one of the backers of the terminated IPL franchise Kochi Tuskers.
Mehta and his son Arun Kumar also own the Mumbai-based B. Arunkumar International, one of India’s biggest diamond exporters, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
The affidavit said they were behind two trusts formed with LGT Bank — Dainese Stiftung and Dryade Stiftung. Mammen of MRF Ltd had allegedly parked money with the Webster Foundation, which had an account with LGT Bank.
In January 2013, Madras High Court had dismissed a petition by Mammen challenging a tax order that raised questions about his tax filing for the assessment year 2002-03 after it received evidence of an endowment of euros 123,000 made in favour of the Webster Foundation based in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.
According to the government’s affidavit, Chandrakant Ishwarlal Gandhi, his wife Dhanalaxmi and sons Rajesh and Viraj had set up the Ruvisha Trust.
Another branch of the family, led by Hasmukh Ishwarlal Gandhi of Millennium Herbal Care — and including wife Madhu, sons Chintan and the late Nirav — had apparently created the Manichi Trust.
According to the affidavit, Ashok Jaipuria had created the Raj Foundation, which had an account with the LGT Bank while Arun Kochhar, an NRI investment banker, had parked money with the Urvashi Foundation.
Stockbroker Manoj Dhupelia, wife Rupal, son Mohan and relatives Ambrish Dhupelia and Bhavya Dhupelia had together formed the Ambrunova Trust and the Marline Management, which had accounts with the bank, the affidavit says.
Today’s disclosures came after the apex court had last week warned the government with contempt charges if it failed to reveal the details of black money salted away in tax havens abroad.
The apex court is hearing a public interest litigation that veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani had moved in 2011, asking that the Centre reveal the details of an alleged Rs 70,000 crore worth of black money stashed in foreign banks by Indians.
Jethmalani had demanded that a special investigation team (SIT) probe the matter and that the black money be brought back to the country.
On July 4, 2011, the then apex court bench of Justices Sudarshan Reddy (now retired) and S.S. Nijjar had castigated the government for failing to make a serious effort to retrieve the money.
It had set up a special investigation team to take steps to bring back the unaccounted wealth, rejecting the Centre’s objections to the move. A former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, headed the special investigation team. “The volume of alleged income-taxes owed to the country, as demanded by the Union of India itself, and the volume of monies, by some accounts $8.04 billion, and some other accounts in excess of Rs 70,000 crore, are said to have been routed through various bank accounts of Hassan Ali Khan and Tapurias,” the bench had said at that time.