Govt silence keeps list afloat

New Delhi, Nov. 10: The mystery of the "Lagarde List" turned curiouser today with the Centre issuing a statement whose omissions were more eloquent than its contents.

A day after Arvind Kejriwal unveiled a list of about 700 Indians and NRIs who had allegedly stashed black money in HSBC bank's Geneva branch, the finance ministry said it had received details from the French government about Indians' bank accounts in a "foreign bank".

But the sterile statement neither contested nor confirmed the authenticity of the names mentioned by the activist, which include those of the Ambani brothers.

The government cited a confidentiality clause for keeping the names under wraps but did not clarify what prevented it from saying the names mentioned by the activist did not match those on the French list, if that indeed was the case. The silence means a cloud of suspicion will be left hanging till the government clears the air.

India received the French list in 2011. Such lists have come to be known by the term "Lagarde List" since then French finance minister and current IMF chief Christine Lagarde handed over confidential account details to Greece in 2010.

Today's finance ministry statement said the tax authorities had taken "appropriate action" but did not mention Kejriwal, his list or the bank.

"Further action, including assessment, tax collection and levy of penalty, will be taken," the statement said.

Kejriwal had alleged that the Ambani brothers, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal, the Burman brothers of Dabur and Congress MP Annu Tandon had parked money in HSBC's Geneva branch. All those named have denied the allegation.

Finance ministry officials said the statement was all that the ministry was willing to provide now. The statement said the information from France was received in June last year about "certain bank accounts reportedly held by certain individuals/non-individuals in a foreign bank".

It said the then finance minister referred to this during the debate on an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha on December 14. Answers to questions on the subject were later furnished in the Rajya Sabha on August 23 this year.

Kejriwal today reacted sceptically to the news of income-tax raids on the offices of operators who offer safe-vault services to small-time gold traders in Mumbai to unearth "hawala" transactions.

"Why aren't big hawala racketeers like HSBC and other banks being raided? Why govt protecting dem?" he tweeted. "Govt's intentions suspect. Are hawala raids mere face savers?"

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