India's government, under opposition pressure over billions of dollars of untaxed money held overseas by rich Indians, said Saturday it had begun legal action against 17 people with alleged funds abroad.
The issue of so-called "black money" hits a Congress-led government that is itself dealing with a slew of graft allegations over recent months including a massive telecoms sale fraud.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government has served notices on 17 people in connection with foreign bank holdings but it was not possible to reveal their names.
"We have received a few names and already served notices on 17 persons and prosecution has begun," he said in televised remarks. He said international agreements and other legal hurdles prevented the government from exposing the identity of Indian tax evaders. "We can only reveal the details in the open court when the matter comes up for hearing," Mukherjee said.
His statements came after India's Supreme Court late last month accused the government of being reluctant to publish details about billions of dollars of untaxed private and business money held in overseas bank accounts.
Estimates for the amount of money deposited illegally in overseas bank accounts and tax havens by wealthy Indians and companies range from ê500 billion to ê1.4 trillion.
The government has said India has completed negotiations on tax information exchange agreements with 10 tax havens -- including Bermuda -- and had initiated talks with 65 other countries.
Opposition parties have been quick to pounce on the various allegations of corruption and have accused the government of seeking to cover up the scale of the "black money" problem.
Mukherjee's statements came as the Indian investigative magazine Tehelka published 15 names from a list it said had been handed over to India by Germany in 2009 of people who had funds stashed away in Liechtenstein.
The magazine published the names under the headline: "Indian Black Money: The Swindler's list."
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