Report IDs Indians holding total of $4 billion in Swiss accounts

Indian official vows expanded probe into untaxed money after report of $4 billion in Swiss bank accounts

India’s finance minister pledged Monday to expand a probe into untaxed money after an investigative report revealed the identities of Indians holding a total of $4 billion in Swiss bank accounts.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government “will certainly investigate the new names” among 1,195 corporate leaders, politicians, industrialists, Indians living abroad and two former tax officers who were found to have held accounts with HSBC’s Swiss private banking unit in 2006 and 2007.

“We are going all out to bring out the truth and we will do it in a time-bound manner. As far as we are concerned, there are no holy cows,” Jaitley told the Indian Express, the newspaper that published the names Monday in coordination with the French newspaper Le Monde, which obtained the bank records.

While not all the accounts were believed to contain undeclared wealth – what Indians call “black money” – the list added to calls for action by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Modi came to power last year vowing to crack down on untaxed money being spirited out of the country, often by well-connected business and political leaders who use offshore accounts to mask their wealth.

Experts believe that Indians hold some $500 billion in tax havens overseas.

The Indian Supreme Court has formed an investigative team that has until March 31 to conclude a probe into some 600 Swiss bank account holders that French authorities previously provided to the Indian government.

“This information can certainly help in bringing back black money. Any evidence is helpful,” Chitra Subramaniam, an Indian investigative journalist and editor of the News Minute website.

“Holding a Swiss account does not mean culpability. You can hold an account perfectly legally. But when you do not disclose it, it raises suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering.”

The longer list published Monday includes prominent people who had not previously been named – including two of India’s richest businessmen, Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani, brothers who each held more than $26 million in their Swiss accounts, the report said.

In statements to the Indian Express, Mukesh Ambani denied through a spokesman that he held illegitimate bank accounts “anywhere in the world”; a representative said Anil Ambani denied holding an HSBC overseas account.

The account details were found in documents smuggled out of the bank by a former systems engineer, who handed the information to French authorities. The documents also showed that HSBC’s private banking unit in Geneva held untaxed accounts for relatives of British royals, Chinese officials and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The British-based bank has acknowledged a lack of controls by its Swiss arm. Swiss officials said Monday that the information was based on “stolen data” but said they were “strongly committed” to cracking down on black money, the Press Trust of India reported.

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.

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