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Govt. to act on tax havens
April, 15th 2009

Noted jurist and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani said he would file a public interest litigation soon to persuade the government to take steps to bring back Indian money stashed away in various tax havens across the world.

Mr Jethmalani's statement coincides with reports in western media regarding Swiss bank Credit Suisse planning to close the accounts of 2,500-5,000 US citizens who have not informed the US governments Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Swiss bank UBS, too, has given out names of 250 US citizens who hold accounts with the bank.

If we do not bring the money back to India, it will soon disappear," Mr Jethmalani told ET. He said that he would wait until the elections were over. This is the first time that a senior lawyer has spoken out against tax havens. Money stashed away in these destinations have drawn the attention of world leaders, many of whom blame offshore havens for deepening the financial crisis and the current economic slowdown. The issue featured prominently in the recently-concluded G-20 meeting held in London.

Three Indian political parties CPM, BJP and JD(U) have included the issue in their manifestos. LK Advani, BJP's prime ministerial candidate, recently said that Indians have parked close to $5 billion in these accounts, a part of which would be sufficient to pay off the country's foreign debt.

The idea about bringing back this money has captured the attention of some of the Indian political parties after the February 2 edition of ET published the contents of a document submitted to the Prime Minister's Office and the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) by former chief income tax commissioner KVM Pai.

Some of the tax havens are beginning to relax their tight secrecy laws following a campaign by IRS of the US for more transparent banking laws. Deviating from their age-old tradition of preserving client confidentiality, some tax havens have bowed to IRS pressure and released the details of 250 of their account holders. On the other hand, Germany has offered the government details of Indians having deposits in LTG Bank in Liechstentein, a small principality that also serves a tax haven.

While it's not possible to come up with a precise figure of the total money stashed away in all the tax havens, the Tax Justice Network, an international organisation that has an observer status with the United Nations, has estimated it at over $11 trillion.

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