Kejriwal targets black money, HSBC’s ‘brazen hawala racket’

Team Kejriwal targeted the Ambanis, Jet Airways chief Naresh Goyal and HSBC Bank in its latest attack Friday, accusing the bank of providing "doorstep service" for opening new accounts in its branch in Geneva, and "brazenly running a hawala racket" in India.

At a press conference, Arvind Kejriwal demanded the arrest of top officials of HSBC for money-laundering, and the immediate suspension of the bank's operations in India.

Kejriwal named individuals and firms that he said were on a list of 700 Swiss bank account-holders which France had supplied to the Indian government. They were, besides Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani and Goyal, the Ambani brothers' mother Kokilaben, Mukesh Ambani's flagship Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Reliance group company MoTech Software Pvt Ltd., Congress MP from Unnao Annu Tandon and her late husband Sandeep, three members of the Burman family that owns Dabur, and Yashovardhan Birla, head of the Yash Birla group.

The accounts of Birla and Kokilaben Ambani had no balance at the time the list was prepared. Kejriwal said his primary source of information was a Congress leader who became a minister recently — a statement that Kejriwal declined to acknowledge during a television interview later.

Speaking late in the evening, government sources dismissed Kejriwal's allegations as having "nothing new" in them, and assured that the government would, if needed, issue an official statement.

"All these issues have been answered in Parliament. The finance ministry will make a statement at an appropriate time if necessary," the sources said.

The Sunday Express was the first to report on August 7, 2011 that the government had received in July that year lists of roughly 700 Indians who had opened accounts in HSBC, Geneva prior to 2007, and that this was being seen as a major black money trail.

On December 18, 2011, The Sunday Express reported that the government was contemplating legal action against HSBC for the alleged "active" role its executives played to persuade Indians to open accounts to park their undeclared money in HSBC's branch in Geneva.

In a statement issued on Friday, HSBC expressed its "commitment" to India and "compliance" with Indian laws, but did not offer reactions to the specific allegations that Kejriwal made.

RIL denied Kejriwal's charges. In a statement, the group said, "Neither Reliance Industries not Mukesh Ambani have or had any illegitimate accounts anywhere in the world. RIL has business interests in several countries with turnover of thousands of crores of rupees. As part of their normal business, these international subsidiaries of RIL deal with several global banks including HSBC. These accounts are fully compliant with all regulations and are disclosed in their appropriate jurisdictions and in India. The continued tirade of baseless alllegations made by IAC against us appears to be instigated by vested interests."

A spokesperson for Jet Airways denied allegations of wrongdoing, and said that since Goyal is a non-resident Indian, he is entitled to have "bank accounts outside India".

"The suggestion that there has been any unaccounted money stashed away in Swiss accounts is entirely false," the spokesperson said. Jet's Isle of Man-based parent company, Tailwinds, does have an account at HSBC, Geneva, the spokesperson said, but added that "the existence of the company M/s Tailwinds Ltd is fully disclosed to various departments of the government of India", and "all questions have been satisfactorily replied to the income-tax department".

Kejriwal claimed that a report sent by the director of investigations, Income-Tax, Delhi, to the director-general of investigations asking for probe into HSBC's alleged hawala network had been ignored.

Given the central government's complicity in the black money economy, and its welcoming of laundered money as FDI, the Manmohan Singh regime could be considered the "biggest threat to the economic sovereignty of the country", Kejriwal said.

While questioning the alleged Swiss bank account of Annu Tandon, Kejriwal also took potshots at Rahul Gandhi and President Pranab Mukherjee.

"I have read that she is a part of the core group of Rahul Gandhi and he had been instrumental in getting her the Congress ticket... Some people told us that the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had given a statement in Parliament that no MP figures in the black money list. If that is correct, then he had obviously been lying. He may have become president, but he cannot escape questions. He should clarify on what basis raids were conducted only on small fry while the likes of Goyal, the Ambanis and the Birlas were let off," Kejriwal said.

Kejriwal claimed that the total black money accounted for in the list obtained by India Against Corruption (IAC) is about Rs 6,000 crore whereas "there is a statement from the CBI director that black money stashed abroad is to the tune of Rs 25 lakh crore."

All 700 people on the list should be raided and their statements recorded, the activist-turned-politician demanded. They should also produce all their bank statements and explain each entry, he said.

Kejrwal cited statements from three accountholders in HSBC's Geneva branch to allege that the bank is "openly and brazenly running a hawala racket in India".

"It appears that perhaps it is easier to open a Swiss bank account than it is to open an SBI account. You just need to contact HSBC in India. They would send someone, get forms filled up and your account would be opened in Geneva or Dubai. Deposit or withdrawal of money is just a phone call away and all of that is doorstep service," he alleged.

Kejriwal said that "if (the government) is not acting (against HSBC) it is either inefficient or sold out", and called upon all 32,000 of the bank's Indian employees to resign in the "national interest".

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