New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS): Indians are the largest depositors in Swiss banks and have stashed a staggering $500 billion of black money abroad for tax evasion, CBI chief AP Singh said today.
Singh said at the opening of a six-day training of Interpol officers that India suffered from the flow of illegal funds to tax havens like Mauritius, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and British Virgin Islands.
"It is estimated that around $500 billion of illegal money belonging to Indians is deposited in tax havens abroad. Largest depositors in Swiss banks are also reported to be Indians," the head of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said.
The Indian government has drawn bitter criticism from opposition parties, activists and from the Supreme Court for its alleged failure to get back vast amounts of black money stashed abroad.
There have been wide-ranging estimates of the amount -- from $500 billion to $1.4 trillion, which is equal to India's annual GDP.
A study by the Global Financial Integrity last year estimated $462 billion of black money was parked in overseas tax havens.
The CBI chief said "inadequate international cooperation and bank secrecy laws" had made it difficult to trace and get back the stashed away "stolen wealth".
"Tracing, freezing, confiscation and then repatriation of stolen assets is a legal challenge," Singh said.
He stressed that asset recovery faced many obstacles including "legal process filled with delays and uncertainty, language barriers and a lack of trust when working with other countries".
He expressed surprise that offshore tax havens were those countries which are "said to least corrupt by the Transparency International index".
"Fiftythree percent of the countries said to be least corrupt are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. The tax havens include New Zealand, which is ranked the least corrupt country, Singapore ranked No.5 and Switzerland No.7."
The CBI chief said lack of political will in the leading tax haven states was one reason why they were not sharing the information with India.
"They are aware of the extent to which their economies have become geared to this flow of illegal capitals from the poorer countries."
The CBI director cited World Bank estimates and said the cross border flow of money from criminal activities and tax evasion was around $1.5 trillion, of which $40 billion is bribe paid to government servants in developing countries.
He said only $5 billion of this money has been repatriated in the last 15 years.