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India Against Corruption (IAC) activists, led by Arvind Kejriwal, today alleged that some of India's most prominent business tycoons, including Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Jet Airways' Naresh Goyal and some members of Dabur Group's Burman family, had stashed away more than Rs 3,100 crore in Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC) Bank, Geneva, through money laundering and hawala.
Kejriwal, along with Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former minister Shanti Bhushan, alleged that the Union government had in July 2011 received from the Government of France the names of 700 people with accounts in the bank.
They alleged that the Income Tax Department raided some smaller businessmen on the basis of this information. But the big fish managed to evade penalties and get away by paying only the applicable taxes - after "buying peace" with Pranab Mukherjee, the then finance minister, now the President.
The IAC members demanded that top officials of HSBC be arrested immediately under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the bank's operations be suspended in India, and all those whose names figured in the list be raided and their statements recorded.
Almost all the people and entities named, however, denied the charges. HSBC Bank India said it could not comment on the specific details of allegations related to issues from the past.
Kejriwal alleged HSBC had acted as the banking conduit for hawala. He added that although the Reserve Bank of India had got a report on HSBC's illegal activities in 2011, "no action has been taken against HSBC".
These funds could easily have been used to fund terrorism, narcotics and to bribe politicians and bureaucrats, he alleged. "We have got these names from a senior Congress leader. The Union government had in July 2010 got a list of 700 people who had accounts in the bank, including Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Kokilaben Ambani, Naresh Goyal, three members of the Dabur group's Burman family and Yashovardhan Birla. Instead of conducting income tax and Enforcement Directorate raids, the Manmohan Singh government is protecting them," Kejriwal said. Also on the list is Anu Tandon, MP from Unnao, and her late husband, Sandeep Tandon. The entire Tandon family worked for RIL, Kejriwal alleged.
According to the social activist, Motech Software Private Ltd, a Reliance Group company, had Rs 2,100 crore, while RIL had Rs 500 crore, Mukesh and Anil Ambani Rs 100 crore each, and Naresh Goyal Rs 80 crore, in their respective accounts at the Swiss bank till December 2006. IAC also alleged Anand Chand Burman, Pradeep Chand Burman and Ratan Chand Burman of the Dabur group had together stashed Rs 25 crore in their Swiss bank account.
"The statements of three businessmen - Parminder Singh Kalra, Praveen Sawhney and Vikram Dhirani - reveal the modus operandi of HSBC Bank, which indulges in money laundering and hawala. The three businessmen told the Income Tax Department during questioning that they used to call Mark Wizbek, Caroline and Salin Fighli, whenever they wanted to deposit or withdraw money. People from the bank used to come to collect and deliver money," Kejriwal said.