Switzerland says India can get only 'lawful' info on black money

10 March 2014

The Swiss authorities have categorically stated that Switzerland will only part with ''lawful'' information on secret bank accounts of Indians in Swiss banks and that New Delhi cannot expect information based on ''leaked'' or ''stolen'' banking data.

Despite India's continuing pursuit of alleged black money stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss banks, Switzerland says it is exchanging information with Indian authorities on all lawful requests, but cannot help on enquiries based on stolen banking data.

Switzerland, which has often been accused of being the most favoured place for stashing illicit wealth even by fellow European countries, however, said it is "committed to resolving any open questions with India regardless of the upcoming elections".

The issue of tracing and recovering illegal wealth stashed away by Indians in secret Swiss bank accounts and elsewhere in tax haven countries is becoming one of the major talking points in the run up to Lok Sabha polls scheduled to start next month.

The government has stepped up pressure on Switzerland in recent months to get information about alleged untaxed money to save itself of the blemishes.

As of now, the Indian authorities claim to have received initial information about such Swiss bank accounts from third countries, which had shared relevant details of allegedly stolen banking data with India.

The Swiss finance ministry has confirmed that the two countries have been in constant contact in recent months to discuss tax issues.

While Switzerland said it understood India's wish to fight tax evasion, the Swiss government rejected India's request for information, but claimed that the relationship between India and Switzerland continues to be one of mutual trust.

The Swiss government argues that it cannot act on requests which are based on information initially obtained through a criminal offence under Swiss law. It wanted India to respect its national and international legal obligations.

Under pressure from its European peers, Switzerland had, in October 2013, agreed for automatic exchange of tax information and mutual administrative assistance in tax matters with overseas jurisdictions.

Switzerland is now a signatory to OECD's Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, to which India is also a signatory.

The convention, once operational, would require Switzerland to extend all kinds of mutual assistance in tax matters including exchange on request, spontaneous information sharing, tax examinations abroad, and assistance in tax collection.

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