Consider special team to probe black money abroad: Apex court

Consider special team to probe black money abroad: Apex court

An apex court bench of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar said the probe into money laundering could not be handled by one department.

The court asked Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to consider the option of setting up the SIT and its composition, in case it (court) decides to exercise the option.

The court also asked the solicitor general for the names of the officers who could be included in the SIT. “You start thinking on the possible composition of the SIT if need arise for it”, the court told Subramanium.

The court also asked senior counsel Anil Divan appearing for the petitioner Ram Jethmalani to weigh the option of SIT undertaking investigation into the black money stashed away in tax havens.

However, the court made it clear that it was not on the course of entrusting investigations into money laundering to the SIT but keeping in place the team in case it was needed to takeover probe. 

At present the SIT was in the realm of options, the court said. The court asked Subramanium to get back with the government's response by March 28.

The court's comments were in the course of the hearing of a petition by eminent jurist Jethmalani seeking directions to the central government to take steps to bring back black money stashed away by Indian citizens in foreign banks.

Even as the court pointed to the option of SIT, Subramanium told the court that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has already acted on these lines by co-opting certain officers from other departments and associated them in assisting the investigation.

The solicitor general told the court that head of ED is a distinguished officer of the Indian Administrative Service and has drawn officers from other sources also.

“The actual conduct (of investigation) is in line with the mandate and aspiration of the court," he said.

The court was told that at the moment things were going well and setting up of the SIT is accepted in principle as an option. The solicitor general told the court that from time to time ED would submit its report to the court and asked the court to monitor the investigations.

Even as the solicitor general was commending the director of ED, Jethmalani's counsel told the court that this officer is heading the ED since 2008, thereby indicating that in last two years under his stewardship nothing moved in unearthing of the black money or its sources.

“This gentleman is there since 2008,” Divan told the court. Divan suggested that a sitting judge of the high court should be appointed to look into the investigations on day-to-day basis. He cited earlier precedent to buttress his plea.

Another counsel Meenakshi Arora asked the court to take on board the services of former comptroller and auditor general V.K. Shunglu and former Central Bureau of Investigation joint director B.R. Lal in assisting the investigations.

Meanwhile, the court said that Hasan Ali Khan, said to be the country's biggest tax evader, who has been remanded to four days' custody of the ED, will be sent to judicial custody on the expiry of this period.

It said this after counsel U.U. Lalit, appearing for Khan, sought a clarification on the court's order Thursday cancelling the bail granted to him by a Mumbai court and remanding him to the ED's custody for four days.

It also advanced to March 28 the hearing on Khan's petition originally listed for April 4.