The Special Investigation Team (SIT) on black money, set up by the Narendra Modi government on Supreme Court orders, has a laborious task of bringing back illegal money stashed in at least 50 tax havens across the globe.
The list of the favourite dens for Indians to stock black money in goes beyond the popular perception of Switzerland and Germany. Countries like Greece, which has been in the throes of a financial crisis, has a huge chunk of black money of Indians stacked in its banks and financial institutions. Other countries where black money is deposited, according to investigating agencies, are Cayman Islands, Bermuda Islands, Luxemborg, Mauritius, Singapore, the Netherlands and several European Union nations.
"People who own this (black) money keep changing places once their bank or country comes under the scanner. In fact, we came to know about many such tax havens through the US, which has been independently investigating its tax evaders," said a senior member of SIT on condition of anonymity.
The SIT chairman is the former Supreme Court judge, MB Shah, and its vice chairman, another former SC judge, Arijit Pasayat, convened the team's first meeting earlier this month; it was attended by the heads of all premier investigating agencies and regulatory authorities including, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Intelligence Bureau, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Income Tax and others. The officials arrived on a 'roadmap' for the investigation, and 'formalised modalities' to implement the court order.
The team is likely to meet again in July, after its office is formally set up in the capital. The SIT will most likely function from the capital's Ashoka Hotel. According to senior officials, the SIT's efforts will take at least two years to bear some concrete results.
"All the agencies will provide information and feedback so that decisions can be taken immediately. We hope that the process will be expedited and results will be out soon. Delay will only dilute the threat perception," said an SIT member.
The sole official reference to the amount of black money stashed abroad dates back to February 2012, when the then CBI director stated that Indians have $500 billion of illegal funds in foreign tax havens.
A major hurdle that can hold up the investigations are the tax information exchange treaties India has signed with many countries that contain a 'confidentiality' clause. This information sharing law, forbids sharing of details with other law enforcement and investigation agencies, obtained for, by example, the IT department. However, the SIT members are confident of cooperation from other countries and may also look into problematic areas posed by such treaties.
"Times have changed. People may be cynical, but I am sure we will do our work and things will happen," the SIT member said.
He added that SIT will not only investigate money stashed illegally abroad and money rooted back to country through various means, but also find the sources within the country where the money was generated from. "This is how we will get the actual money trail and tighten the noose around the big fish," said a member.