NEW DELHI (AFP) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed Sunday to bring back billions of dollars believed to be illegally stashed in banks abroad by Indians to avoid paying tax, amid a furore over “black money”.
Modi said the money belonged to India’s poor and his right-wing government was “on the right track” in efforts to have the funds suspected of being stashed in Swiss and other foreign accounts returned.
“The issue is an article of faith for me,” the premier said in a regular Sunday address on na-tional radio, mainly aimed at connecting with the millions of rural poor.
“Every penny of this country’s poor people, which has gone out, should return. This is my commitment,” said Modi who stormed to power in May in a landslide election victory.
The comments come just days after Modi’s government submitted a list to India’s top court of 627 people suspected of parking “black money” in Swiss bank accounts beyond the reach of tax authorities.
The government was initially accused of see-king to shield powerful people after it argued against handing over the names to the Supreme Court.
Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based group that tracks money transfers, said Indians surreptitiously shifted $344 billion overseas between 2002 and 2011, depriving India of vital tax revenues.
But that money is a fraction of illicit funds and assets concealed in India, experts say.
Modi pledged during his high-octane election campaign to “bring back black money within 100 days” of being elected, after accusing the previous government of failing to crack down on the issue.
Anti-corruption activists petitioned the Su-preme Court seeking the names of wealthy Indi-ans under scrutiny by the new government for allegedly hiding funds offshore.
“From what I understand and based on the information I have, I am telling you that we are on the right track,” Modi said of the ongoing probe into black money.