Prosecution under Black Money Act for inherited foreign bank accounts

The scourge of ‘black money’ has been a persistent issue for India, becoming a major political issue in the recent past. The problem of black money leads to challenges on multiple fronts, greatest of them being denial of revenue to the Government. The parallel economy created by black money deprives the government of its due share of individual income tax, which in turn leads to reduced funds available for much needed government spending and stimulus. Socially, the problem of black money gives rise to further corruption and enhanced class inequality.

Since coming to power in 2014, the current Government has taken up the issue of black money as a major point of reform and has been gradually escalating its efforts to bring black money, both in India and abroad, to tax. Some of the major measures include establishing the multilateral mechanism for Automatic Exchange of Information, information exchange mechanisms with various countries under the respective tax treaties, the demonetisation drive, enactment of the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015 (BM Act) and the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018.
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During their electoral campaign in 2014, Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party promised to ‘bring back’ black money stashed abroad within 100 days of coming to power. Though almost halfway through Modi’s term, this promise remained unfulfilled, with the Government’s efforts to address the issue of black money resulting in only occasional big bang actions. These efforts have ranged from setting up a ‘special investigation team’ for probing the problem of black money, to passing stringent anti black money legislation, and also the opening of two voluntary (but narrow) disclosure windows in relation to undisclosed foreign and domestic assets respectively. Actions also included increased scrutiny of filings, by the introduction of ‘annual information returns’ for high value transactions, and the disclosure of ‘aadhaar number’ and passport number in income tax returns. Our May 2016 blog article took you through the problem of black money and India’s response to the same.

However, the sudden decision to demonetise India’s highest-denomination currency notes took the entire nation by surprise. Since midnight on November 8th, 2016, notes in denominations of ₹500 and ₹1000 are no longer legal tender and have been withdrawn. The bold step taken by the Government has had not only financial, but also social and legal repercussions for citizens. This surgical strike against black money hoarders has plunged into fear and uncertainty millions of honest taxpayers and common citizens holding cash savings. Pursuant to the demonetization scheme, the Indian banking system is witnessing the deposit of large sums of unaccounted and untaxed money; which some foresee, may be diverted towards welfare schemes and used to inject more liquidity into the lending system. Also, as many citizens are in possession of huge amounts of undeclared and untaxed cash reserves, they are struggling to find legal ways to convert the same into the new currency, and yet escape scrutiny and surveillance by the authorities.
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The problem of ‘black money’ has plagued India for a while and has become a major political issue in the recent past. In this brief piece, we examine the measures the Government of India (GOI) seeks to implement to address this problem and how this fits into a larger and a more global problem of tax evasion. To those unaware with the concept of black money, ‘black money’ essentially refers to undisclosed funds and monies, on which income and other taxes have not been paid. There are also additional concerns on the acquisition of such funds and the underlying activities through which such funds may have been realised. Recent reports have thrown up astronomical figures to quantify India’s ‘black money’ economy but even on a conservative estimate, one could peg this at INR. 28 Trillion (approximately USD 40 billion), a staggering 30% of India’s gross domestic product.

Most of India’s blacCoins k money is concealed in offshore jurisdictions and may have been typically exported in violation of India’s foreign exchange control regime. The Swiss National Bank estimates that in Swiss banks alone, deposits by Indian citizens aggregated to INR. 92.95 Billion (over a billion USD) by the end of end of 2010.


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