In the midst of the Anna movement one important thing has been pushed to the back ground. It is the Gangotri of corruption but less focused and talked about. Barack Obama is concerned about it, Merkel is furious about it and Sarkozy wants to regulate it but the leaders of one of the most affected country namely India is not saying or doing anything about them. They are the Tax havens or off-shore financial centers where the ill gotten wealth of tax evaders of many countries is hoarded.
Liechtenstein is a country as well as a convenient “letter box” for moneyed people all over the world to hide their ill gotten wealth. It is a small principality where if you jog a little longer you may end up in the next country. The crown prince with a difficult to pronounce name like Alois von und Zu Liechtenstein [notice that the Prince’s surname is that of the country!] is angry with Germany for launching a massive tax-evasion investigation involving funds hidden away in his countries vaults. Germany’s intelligence agency seems to have paid an unnamed informer more than USD 6 million for confidential and secret data about clients of LGT group a bank owned by the Prince’s family. The revelations have already led to the resignation of the head of Deutsche Post—the former German mail service—which is currently the world’s largest logistics company in the world. The Lichtenstein leaders are furious and have focused all their ire at the theft of the data rather than on the facts of the case.
The German Government has announced that it would share information on accounts held in the tax haven with any Government that wanted it. The spokesman for the German Finance ministry Thorstein Albig has indicated that they would respond to such requests without charging any fees for the information. Finland, Sweden, and Norway have expressed interest in the data obtained by the Berlin intelligent agency.
Now the interesting and intriguing part. Indian government was very reluctant to get that data from Germany. It finally got the data under the pressure of the then leader of Opposition in 2009. More than hundred names are presumably in that list. But the results are not shared with Indian citizens. It is common knowledge that trillions of dollars of Indian money is in various tax heavens like Antigua, Switzerland, Bahamas, Liechtenstein, Isle of Man, and St.Kitts etc. Throughout the Nehruvian socialistic period under invoicing of exports and over invoicing of imports was very common and the funds were siphoned off to these tax heavens. In a socialistic way all leaders be they business, political, film, sports or bureaucratic participated in creating what we may call Secular ill gotten Wealth that is cutting across any type of caste or creed distinctions.
The Government is not releasing the names obtained from Germany and claims it s due to the double taxation treaty with Germany. The stolen data by Germany from its neighbor is no where linked to our treaty with Germany since it is not pertaining to any misdemeanor by Indians vis-vis Germany. But the Government is intransigent.
HSBC Illegal Money
Few months earlier the Government of India got nearly a thousand accounts of Indians holding illegal wealth in HSBC bank in Switzerland. This data was obtained by French from people who have stolen the data—more than 15000 accounts- from HSBC data files. The French have given the full data set to us. The Government of India is not telling the citizens what action it is undertaking .It does not want to share the names.
For everything the Finance Minster is chanting the same mantra of double taxation treaties when those treaties do have only prospective effect. What is needed is the political will to bring back the illegal funds accumulated abroad. From Bofors to CWG to 2G to Hasan Ali –all illegal money takes us to tax havens. It is estimated that between half a trillion and one half trillion is the illicit money stashed abroad by our political leaders/business barons/bureaucrats and film stars and sports icons.
Why we should Act
The issue is of paramount importance due to four reasons. Every two paise experts on Indian stock markets know that increasingly our markets are moved by global flows –both inflows and outflows of funds. Such flows may be ill gotten wealth of Indians kept abroad in tax havens or domestic funds are sent out and brought back to facilitate some activities. In the context of concern expressed by our own National Security Advisor regarding possibility of terror funds coming through financial markets the second concern is are we adequately sterilized in terms of know your customers etc.? Third is about our ability to formulate policies without being black mailed by foreign Governments. For instance many might not know that the owner of more than 90 percent of world’s currency printing business from Switzerland namely Mr. De La Rue Giori, –along with his girl friend–was one of the passengers of the hijacked plane to Kandahar. It is easy to imagine the type of pressure applied by the Swiss on our Government at that time. If large number of our elites is having illegal money in Switzerland then we are prone to manipulations in terms of policy formulations. Even now it is not clear if our Foreign Minster handed over dollars or Swiss currency to the hijackers. Any how the true history may come out some time in future. It is pertinent to note that if CIA knows about our leaders then ISI may also have that data. The fourth issue is the most important one. Is there a political will among India’s ruling class to put the issue of Tax Havens on Global agenda and compel other developed countries to facilitate closing down of these anachronisms in the twenty first century? These tiny island absurdities had their time, their crooked purpose and place in history. Twentieth century was that of privacy and secrecy. But in the 21st Century integrity is the motto and transparency the mantra. India should pass a law making all the illegal wealth abroad as part of a trust to be created. We should along with other emerging markets arm twist these tiny islands to give back our money. India should bring sanity to global financial markets and joy to millions of pauperized persons in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Let us be pro-active and get back our money and clean up the global financial system.