A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu directed that the sealed covers should be given to the Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by retired SC judge MB Shah. It also asked the SIT to file a status report by November-end. The bench allowed the government to place before the SIT the objections relating to confidentiality in treaties signed with other nations. It posted the matter for further hearing on December 3.
The judges said only the SIT chairman and the vice-chairman can open the envelopes. Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi submitted three sealed covers, which included the governments correspondence with French authorities, a list of names of 627 account holders and details of overseas bank accounts and a status report.
He said more than half of the people in the list are Indian nationals while the rest are Non-Resident Indians. He said most people named in the list, which was last updated in 2006, have their accounts with the HSBC Bank. He said that the data was stolen from HSBC Bank in Geneva, which later reached France from where the government got the information.
The names as sought by the SC had been given to the SC-appointed SIT in June this year, the AG told the bench.
According to the AG, the government has amended the Income Tax Act to extend the limitation period to launch prosecution against invalid accounts and the deadline will end by March 31, 2016, thus all investigation has to end by that time.
Stating that there is nobody that the government wants to protect and it has no objection to any probe, Rohtagi said that some of the accused, whose names were given by different goverments and the HSBC Bank at Geneva have admitted to having accounts and have also paid tax.
Citing treaties, the government requested the court that confidentiality about the names should be maintained. Any move to reveal the names in public without launching prosecution will choke governments efforts to get more information about the illgotten money stashed abroad, Rohatgi argued.
While there are no official estimates, Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think-tank, estimated that Indians had parked $462 billion in overseas tax havens between 1948 and 2008.
Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has filed an application requesting the court to implead him as a party in the matter.