Ali's black deeds

The case of a Pune-based real estate dealer and stud farm  owner Hasan Ali Khan may turn out to be a test case of the UPA government’s claimed commitment to unearth black money and punish financial wrong-doers. As it has become a norm in recent times in pursuing financial misdemeanours, the supreme court is prodding the government into action against Khan who is alleged to be a big-time tax evader. The court has asked many uncomfortable questions about the government’s handling of the charges against him, while hearing a petition on the lack of action to retrieve black money stashed away in foreign banks. The apparently generous treatment received by Khan from official investigative authorities has come out into the open during the hearing.

The charges against him are mind-boggling. He is said to have deposits of as much as $8 billion in one Swiss bank account and the tax authorities have served on him and his associates a demand for tax and penalties worth over Rs 71,000 crore.

Teams have gone to Switzerland to investigate his holdings in banks there. But investigations have not yielded any concrete results and Khan has not been touched in any real sense. He was taken for custodial interrogation only after the court ordered it. But the Enforcement Directorate could not produce convincing evidence against him in a Mumbai court and had to suffer embarrassment when he was released on bail. The supreme court had to ask for reinstatement of three officers who had been abruptly transferred for taking the investigation against him seriously. It also turns out that there may be other angles to pursue than tax evasion and money-laundering. He allegedly has dealings with arms dealers and links with people associated with terrorist activities. The court has asked the government to get these aspects also investigated.

It is not certain whether the charges against Hasan Ali Khan are correct or not. But it seems the government has not been able to properly follow up on its own charges against him. Should it be directed at every stage of the investigation on how to handle his alleged offences? The government has always claimed that it is taking sincere action to fight the black money threat and to retrieve money amassed illegally in banks abroad. When it is unable to make an effective investigation against a person who faces such serious charges, how credible is the claim?

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