The $8 billion mystery… by Pritish Nandy

The Hasan Ali case gets curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.

Every few days, the IT guys keep upping the tax dues of the Pune-based stud farm owner. Recently they added penalty and made it a nice round figure of Rs 100,000 crore. So you now have one lakh crore of tax dues and they still don’t know where the money in his Swiss bank accounts came from. Meanwhile, rumours fly fast and furious. Some say the billions belong to a powerful Maharashtra politician who is everyone’s pet target these days. Others say it belongs to a Tamil Nadu politician currently out of power. There are also dark whispers that it belongs to an Andhra politician who passed away sometime back. While Ram Jethmalanai alleges dramatically in court that it leads all the way to the very top. The general consensus is that it belongs to many politicians and businessmen, and Hasan Ali is just a banker for them. The list includes even Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, once touted as the richest man in the world. But whoever the money belongs to must be so powerful that Hasan Ali, even in custody, refuses to sing. No one has managed to get the slightest clue from him as to where the billions came from.
By all accounts, Hasan Ali has beaten the late Harshad Mehta to the highest tax defaulter stakes. One lakh crore is no laughing matter, particularly when it’s based on conjecture and vague insinuations. For, as on date, there’s nothing proved against Hasan Ali nor his charming second wife Rheema, against whom the investigating agencies are now plotting to move, in the hope they can use her to prise open the dark secrets behind their Swiss bank accounts. Even the Supreme Court last month queried the State as to why enough is not being done to find out more about his unexplained transactions. Custodial interrogation hasn’t helped either. The main question remains unanswered: Does the money belong to Hasan Ali? If so, where did he get it from and for what services rendered? It’s a tidy sum, $8 billion in cash in Swiss banks and no one quite knows where it came from, what it was paid for, who paid it and why.

The actual tax claim against Hasan Ali, excluding penalty and interest, is reportedly Rs 72,000 crore, enough to provide drinking water to India’s six lakh villages. Yet no action has been taken to clear the mystery behind the man and his funny money. It’s funny money because, till date, there’s simply no evidence, certainly not in the public domain, that suggests Hasan Ali actually owns that $8 billion. The money could belong to anyone—and probably does.

The IT guys claim that any further delay and the matter can get time barred. This means the case has been going on for much longer than we know. Tax cases don’t get time barred easily. They take years to reach that stage. So, probably, someone has dragged his feet in this case either to protect Hasan Ali or protect those whose money he may be shielding. The delay may also be politically inspired, if it’s true that the money belongs to politicians. In fact, if it wasn’t for the courts, Hasan Ali would have been by now (like Q) a free man with nothing to hold him back except a long buried controversy.

Clearly, there appears to be a cover up somewhere. Yet I also believe the man when he says he fears for his life. We saw how the key witness for the 2G case, Sadiq Batcha mysteriously died on the very day he was planning to turn approver and spill the beans. The doctor who gave his post mortem report, calling it a case of suicide, is now an election candidate. He resigned from his job the very next day. A coincidence? Possibly. Hasan Ali, whatever may be his crime, is clearly in a dangerous space ever since he sent out a small slip of paper to a news reporter saying he fears he may be killed before the actual facts of the case emerge. Does that mean he wants to sing but is not being allowed to?

Before we judge Hasan Ali, our first job is to protect him. Most such cases in India never get solved because someone or the other, the villain or the victim or the key witness, gets bumped off during investigations. There is convenience in sudden death. Those who know the facts are then too terrified to speak out and with no clearly identified villain to pursue, the media quietly sneaks away to hunt down new crimes. Let not Hasan Ali’s case go the same way. He may be a bad guy. But no bad guy, however smart, however well connected, gets $8 billion from nowhere in his Swiss bank accounts unless he is protecting someone who he believes is powerful enough to rescue him or dangerous enough to kill him if he speaks the truth.


6 Responses to “The $8 billion mystery… by Pritish Nandy”

  1. There are three types of people I meet. Some who work for a living, some who live for their work and some who live in the fourth dimension by default.

    For the purpose of the subject of the post, I’ll discuss the portraits of the first two. The third one is outside the domain of economic activity.

    Both, those who work for living and those who live for working, select a fixed set of activities for their indulgence, namely, agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, manufacturing, energy, water, construction, trade, logistics, processed food, communications, finance, real estate, knowledge management, administration, education, health, entertainment, hospitality and other services. This list is made by some nerd in the United Nations.

    Regardless of the color of the money, black or white, it must eventually end up in one of these sectors – where, when and how is the decision of those who possess the money.

    The books of accounts for both the types of money are exactly the same except some minor changes in the terminology. Like taxes in one book will be called bribes in another; the account head in one may be cash-in-the-bank and in the other it will be cash with Hassan Ali.

    The investment patterns will be similar too since the core business activity is the same. For every 10 Rupees payable in one book, there will be 90 Rupees payable in the other book for the same account head. Both the 10 and 90 belong to the same person (s). No one may grudge the possessor.

    There are some innocent people who argue that the unaccounted cash is tax payers money. The tax was taken from them by force by the government.

    My take on that is, once the money is taken, it is gone. It belongs to the person who has taken it. If a mug takes my money on the street and disappears, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. I gave it to him/her to save my life. It’s a trade-off. My life or my money. If I refuse to part with the money and kill him/ her in a fight, I walk away with my life, my money and also whatever money is in the mug’s pockets. If I can’t protect it, it’s not mine.

    Whether it is pure-white tax money or pitch-black undisclosed treasures, the logic is the same. The only difference is that a small portion of the white money is also doled out to the useless sections of the society for the space that they occupy, while black money is only spent for services that are useful to the buyer.

    The law and order is also similar in both the worlds, except that it is more efficient in the black market. They trust only in God, with the rest of the world they deal in cash.

    The market and circulation of unaccounted cash in India is 9 times larger than the circulation of accounted cash that is reported by banks to the government.

    Presently, the black money can buy most of the earth in Asia up to phillipines. But that is illogical.

    An investment must be spread out sensibly between fixed and current assets, which is almost 15-85 in these days of high inflation.

    That is only until we can print dollars like the US does. Once we reach that point, there will be no disctinction between black and white. We can print currency and buy whatever we want from the outside world. Last month Obama has firmly resolved to reduce the US deficit by 15 trillion dollars in the next 120 years i.e. by 2140. The Republicans have whole-heartedly supported his plan.

    Very soon India will be an economic power to contend with. Our federal government in Delhi will print currency-on-demand like the US. There will be no need for swiss accounts and Hassan Ali Cooperative Banks. Each one of us can live like in obesity. I mean prosperity.

    Till that happens, let’s live with what we have.

    Or, if we don’t have the courage, let’s migrate to the fourth dimension.

  2. I am away for most part of the day. Two dull conferences and a new business plan to be worked out by evening. I feel like a salesman sometimes hopping from one hotel to another!

    Work is worship, said some intelligent person. So true, in my case. My work worships me. I am a counsellor.

    It’s such an inconsequential world that is full of dire consequences. Hmm.. that’s an antithesis!

    I think old man Moses made a good point. Migration, refugees, mohajirs are good for the economy. They vacate large spaces in their own homeland and build new markets in unknown places. Most of them work for food and shelter and an occassional dream.

    The ancient days, when migration was only for traders, nomads, shepherds, and oracles, are now turned around. These days they are the ones who live in one place and the rest of the population drifts from place to place.

    In half an hour I’ll be addressing one such group of refugees. They call themselves petroleum engineers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: