Ram Jethmalani vs. UOI (Supreme Court)
Brief Facts: Pursuant to a Writ Petition alleging inaction by the Government on the unearthing of unaccounted money, the Supreme Court set up a High Level Committee to act as a Special Investigation Team to supervise the investigation by the Government into black money. In the course of the ruling, the Court considered the impact of the Double taxation Avoidance Agreements, the Vienna Convention and the judgement in UOI vs. Azadi Bachao Andolan 263 ITR 706 (SC). The Court strongly disapproved of the stand taken by the Government that the names of the tax evaders was a secret and could not be revealed under the India-Germany DTAA.
Supreme Court HELD:
We have persued the said agreement with Germany. We are convinced that the said agreement, by itself, does not proscribe the disclosure of the relevant documents and details of the same, including the names of various bank account holders in Liechtenstein. In the first instance, we note that the names of the individuals are with respect to bank accounts in the Liechtenstein, which though populated by largely German speaking people, is an independent and sovereign nation state. The agreement between Germany and India is with regard to various issues that crop up with respect to German and Indian citizens™ liability to pay taxes to Germany and/or India. It does not even remotely touch upon information regarding Indian citizens™ bank accounts in Liechtenstein that Germany secures and shares that have no bearing upon the matters that are covered by the double taxation agreement between the two countries. In fact, the information that is referred to in Article 26 is that which is necessary for carrying out the purposes of this agreement, i.e. the Indo-German DTAA. Therefore, the information sought does not fall within the ambit of this provision. It is disingenuous for the Union of India, under these circumstances, to repeatedly claim that it is unable to reveal the documents and names as sought by the Petitioners on the ground that the same is proscribed by the said agreement. It does not matter that Germany itself may have asked India to treat the information shared as being subject to the confidentiality and secrecy clause of the double taxation agreement. It is for the Union of India, and the courts, in appropriate proceedings, to determine whether such information concerns matters that are covered by the double taxation agreement or not. In any event, we also proceed to examine the provisions of the double taxation agreement below, to also examine whether they proscribe the disclosure of such names, and other documents and information, even in the context of these instant proceedings.