New Delhi: The government drew strong flak from the Supreme Court on Tuesday for opposing formation of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe the case of black money as the court said it was needed because the agencies involved in the three-year probe have not gone into the source of the money.

Expressing their dissatisfaction over the probe, a bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said, "That is the fundamental question (source of money) which we have been asking and this has not been answered by the agencies involved in the probe."

The Bench said it was favouring the constitution of SIT as there was not substantial progress in the investigation into the source of money.

"The manner in which it (investigation) has proceeded since 2008 makes it clear that there has not been substantial progress in the investigation. The speed at which the investigation ought to have been done has not been done," it said.

"Since 2008, you have known that certain individuals for years have some kind of money abroad. Instead of looking into that, you talked about double taxation treaty and this treaty and that treaty. Simple questions you could have asked those individuals were that from where you have got that money which you have so far not answered," it said.

The Bench said it has gone through various status reports filed by ED but nowhere did it find any mention of the sources of money.

Referring to the status report filed on Monday by the government on ED's probe, one of the judges said "I went through it all night...reading the status report and the interrogation report filed by you and I found that there was no considerable effort to find out the sources of money. We have found only three-four questions but we have not found anything about the sources of money.”

"It is not that they were foreigners. All of them were here but in three years we find that you have not done anything. It is more than three years. You have been investigating it since 2008. The fundamental question is about the sources of money," the bench said.

It also took into consideration of the allegation by petitioners Ram Jethmalani and others that the Maharashtra Police officer, who had prepared the CD on the interrogation of Pune stud farm owner Hasan Ali Khan, has been suspended after he sought permission to intervene in the matter in the Apex Court.

The bench directed the government to place before it by April 8, in a sealed cover, the CD and transcripts of Khan's statements recorded by police officer Ashok Deshbhratar.

Govt defends its stance

Stating that the progress in the investigation should not be allowed to regress at this juncture, Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian during the hearing told the court that the government was not in favour of constitution of a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case of black money being stashed away in foreign banks and alleged money laundering by Khan.

Contending that the agencies, currently investigating the case, should continue with their probe, Subramanian said the Apex Court may form an SIT to probe the case later if the agencies did not show result.

"At this juncture, an SIT should not be appointed. Wait for some more time as the agencies are involved in examining the matter. Any deflection at this point of time will prove far more expensive," the Solicitor General said.

He said the government has no objection in principle to video-recording the statements of the accused and witnesses during the investigation process.

Besides the Enforcement Directorate probe in the black money case, Khan is also facing a nearly Rs 70,000 crore tax demand notice from the Income-Tax Department.

Jethmalani counsel supports SC

Senior advocates Anil Divan and Rajeev Dhawan, appearing for petitioners--former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani and former super cop Julius Ribeiro respectively--supported the idea of setting up an SIT to investigate the matter.

They said the investigation should be handed over to an SIT as the government itself has, through the Solicitor General, confessed that ED officers involved in investigation from top to bottom, were facing threats and needed protection through a court direction.

They submitted there were questions as to whether the officers carrying out the probe were the right people for the job.

However, Subramanium tried to convince the bench there was no reason to doubt upon the integrity of the officers including the Director of Enforcement Directorate who himself has been acting fast in probing the case.

He said there had been attempts to obfuscate the whole issue and assured the bench that the allegations against the ED officers were misconceived.

JPN/Agencies