BLACK MONEY TRIAL SHIFTS TO ISLAND NATIONS

As India expands its probe into suspected black money stashed abroad, the trail appears to have gone much beyond the Alpine mountain ranges of Switzerland to various island nations and global financial centres like Dubai, Singapore, Luxembourg and Cyprus. While Switzerland has agreed to cooperate and share details in cases where probe by Indian authorities have independently shown 'tax crimes' prima facie, "a few cases" where such information exchange is taking place involve entities and transactions much beyond Swiss shores. While exact number of these "few cases" could not be ascertained, sources said that the ongoing cooperation between Swiss and Indian authorities is generating many more leads for further investigations and they suggest routing of funds through various other jurisdictions that range from well- established financial centres like Dubai, Singapore and Luxembourg to numerous small island nations. India is strengthening its bilateral tax information exchange treaties with many such jurisdictions, but a further push might be required for 'technical assistance'. While Switzerland has been the focus of India's fight against suspected black money stashed abroad, investigations into various cases show large-scale instances of illicit funds having been channelised abroad through other locations too. A number of island nations in Caribbean and other parts of the world figure among such locations. India has also signed information exchange pacts on tax matters with a number of such locations including Saint Kitts & Nevis, Bahamas, Bermuda, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Cayman Islands, Jersey, Macau, Liberia, Argentina, Guernsey and Monaco, among others. A Special Investigation Team is currently looking into the black money issue, including the cases related to untaxed money stashed abroad by Indians. In one of its reports recently submitted to the government, the SIT, however, observed that absence of riminal legal treaties between India and tax haven nations is one of the major impediments in initiating steps to bring back illegal funds stashed abroad by Indians. The role of some banks, including those outside Switzerland, has also come under scanner for acting in concert with the suspected black money hoarders and also for making 'safe haven' promises for their funds. The suspected lapses on the part of these banks are also being probed for allegedly facilitating re-routing funds of certain Indian corporate houses back into their listed companies as foreign investments. Such transactions are suspected to have taken place in case of 15-20 Indian companies, a senior official said, but refused to disclose their names as also that of the banks saying it might impede the investigations.

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