In November, 2010, President Laurent Gbogbo of Ivory Coast in Western  Africa made a bid to legitimize his dictatorship through an election. The voters however rejected him and chose his rival Alklasandra Ouattara instead. Gbogbo however refused to honour the peoples’  verdict and hand over power to the winner, despite pressure from the  international community. In recent weeks, two other dictators in the  Arab world - Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – have been forced to step down following mass uprising in their countries. Apart from the growing anger against dictators in that part of the world, there is another thing that is common to all the three leaders – the freezing of their bank accounts and those of their associates by the Government of  Switzerland.

Following petitions from the Ivory Coast and Tunisia, the Swiss Cabinet met last month and decided to freeze the assets of Gbogbo and Ben Ali. A similar decision was taken in respect of Mubarak’s assets in Switzerland on the very day he stepped down from office. Announcing these decisions, the President of Switzerland Micheline Calmy-Rey declared that these bank accounts would be frozen initially  for three years to enable the authorities in these three countries to initiate criminal proceedings against the leaders rejected by the people. The initiation of such criminal proceedings is a pre-condition for judicial assistance from Switzerland and for the return of the funds to the countries from which they were embezzled. Significantly, Switzerland is desperately trying to shed the image of a country that  attracts dirty money from across the world and shields those who deposit them in its banks. The government has therefore passed a new law which enables the Swiss Cabinet to block assets of dictators.

Using the developments in the Arab World as an opportunity for an image make-over, the Swiss President declared that Switzerland does not want its financial system to be used to park embezzled funds from poor countries. The banks have been directed to monitor these accounts and to ensure that the account holders did not withdraw funds from them. The European Union and the United States have also frozen the assets of Gbogbo and Britain’s Serious Fraud Office has announced that it is investigating if Hosni Mubarak had stashed away his funds in their country as well.

Surely, this must be an opportune moment for us to go after Indian fraudsters who have parked funds in Swiss banks. However, the swift action taken by Switzerland, the European Union, Britain and the United States only confirms our worst fears about the attitude of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government vis-à-vis black money and bank accounts of Indians in Switzerland and other tax havens.  Virtually acting suo moto, the Swiss authorities have frozen the accounts of three dictators including Ben Ali of Tunisia but Manmohan Singh would like us to believe that the Swiss government was uncooperative when we sought their help to freeze the US $ 8 billion stashed away by a Pune Stud Farm owner called Hasan Ali! In other words, just acting on a tip off from the people, the bank accounts of  three dictators are frozen by the Swiss Government, but this very government is unmoved the entreaties of  the government that represents the second largest country and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Such is the pusillanimity of the Manmohan Singh Government that even a principality like Liechtenstein, which are smaller than Gurgaon Town, is cocking a snook at us and refusing to co-operate!  Surely, there is something wrong somewhere. Why is Manmohan Singh unwilling to act against those who have looted the country?

The Task Force appointed by the BJP to examine this issue says that global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund estimates the black money lodged in tax havens as US $ 18 trillion. Of this, it is estimated that around U.S $ 500 billion (Rupees 25 lakh crores) belongs to India. This is money acquired by Indian politicians, businessmen, industrialists and others through corruption, bribery, kickbacks on deals, criminal activities and tax evasion and secreted in tax havens. The crooks fall into various categories. Some are traditional business leaders who have been accumulating illegal funds in these tax havens since the 1950s. Others are hawala racketeers who, for a price, convert rupees to dollars and  vice-versa and transform Indian black money into foreign direct investment; the new age first-generation entrepreneurs (the 21 Century noveau riche Indian businessman) who have caught on to the tricks of  the old age businessman; and present-day politicians and bureaucrats, who scoff at the gradualism practiced by their seniors on the corruption front. Finally, there are the certified crooks- persons  whose main occupation is to cheat the state or endanger the lives of people. These are persons who indulge in money laundering on behalf of arms dealers, drug cartels and terrorist groups.

The United States and several other countries have pressured the Swiss government to disclose details of black money salted away by their  citizens in Swiss banks. The US, for example, coaxed, cajoled and eventually threatened UBS Bank in Switzerland to part with details of accounts held by 4450 Americans. It is estimated that the unaccounted wealth stashed away in these accounts was of the order of US $ 18 billion. France and Germany followed suit. The latter turned its attention to Liechtenstein, which survives on the black money lodged in its banks by fraudsters from across the world. It bribed an employee of LGT Bank in Liechtenstein and obtained details of black money parked in that bank. The German tax authorities went after the Germans in the list and offered the data to all nations which wished to act against tax evaders. The governments in a host of European nations grabbed the offer and went after their tax evaders. But, there were also governments in other parts of the world which trembled at the thought of securing this information. Topping the list of such governments which were afraid to ask for the list was the Manmohan Singh Government. The Prime Minister was probably petrified at the thought of obtaining the names of account holders, lest his mentors and benefactors figure in the list! However, despite his government  dragging its feet, the Germans thrust the list on the government. This happened a long time ago, but the people of India have still not been told who had hoarded black money in Liechtenstein. The government’s publicly stated position is that this information is “confidential” because the government is duty bound to safeguard the fundamental right of such crooks to privacy! Secondly, the names cannot be disclosed because the matter is under investigation. Strangely, though  the issue at hand is money laundering, the government is desperately trying to dilute the offences committed by these account holders by pretending, as in the Hasan Ali Khan Case, that these are merely cases of tax evasion.

There can be little doubt now that the skeletons tumbling out of the union government’s cupboards over the last six months has done incalculable harm to the credibility of the UPA coalition and substantially eroded the mandate given to it by voters in May, 2009. But the recent developments vis-à-vis the freezing of the accounts of persons who have embezzled funds from Egypt, Tunisia and Ivory Coast has completely unmasked the Manmohan Singh government .The  explanations and excuses offered by him for his inability to bring back the black money stashed away by Indian politicians and businessmen in Swiss banks and in the 70 tax havens across the world will no longer hold water. Unless the Supreme Court steps in and compels the government to act, Bharat’s Swabhiman will be at stake.