No information on Swiss bank accounts of Indian nationals: finance minister

23 June 2014

Finance minister Arun JaitleyThe government has no communication so far from the authorities in Switzerland about sharing information on Indian nationals holding accounts in banks there, finance minister Arun Jaitley clarified a day after reports said the Swiss government has agreed to more than meet its commitments.

On the contrary, the finance minister today said, the government will soon be writing to Switzerland seeking details of Indians having unaccounted money in Swiss banks.

The minister's comments followed media reports to the effect that names of certain persons and entities of Indian origin have come under scanner of Swiss authorities and that the authorities are planning to part with the details with the Indian authorities.

A PTI report quoted an unidentified Swiss government official as saying on Sunday that a list of Indian nationals holding accounts in banks there is ready and that it could include structures like trusts, domiciliary companies and other legal entities based out of countries other than India as well and that these could include both legitimate and illegitimate accounts.

The minister said he is writing to the Swiss authorities today to "expedite the process of sharing the information".

The report said the official had not revealed the identity of the alleged bank account holders, or the amount of undeclared money placed by them in Swiss banks.

"Switzerland understands and shares India's wish to fight tax evasion and is committed to complying with the relating international standards," the Swiss Embassy said in a statement today.

Switzerland's central bank, SNB, had earlier reported that Indian money in various Swiss banks had risen by 43 per cent during 2013 to an equivalent of around Rs14,000 crore. This included money held directly by Indians and those through fiduciary intermediaries.

These accounts are suspected to include untaxed money held through trusts, domiciliary companies and other legal entities based out of countries other than India.

Banks and regulatory authorities in India have since sought details about the source of the funds and the beneficiary ownership of such accounts.

Switzerland has signed treaties to provide administrative assistance in tax matters with 36 countries, including India, in accordance with international practices.

Switzerland's Federal Department of Finance, in its latest annual report on 'International Financial and Tax Matters 2014', has committed itself to compliance with international standards in the area of tax administrative assistance.

It has also agreed to cooperate actively on the development of a global standard for automatic exchange of information to ensure tax compliance of foreign asset management clients, while putting in place a robust regulatory system for identifying the beneficial owners of all types of legal entity, including trusts and domiciliary companies.

The new Narendra Modi government soon after assuming power set up an 11-member Special Investigating Team (SIT) to help identify Indians who have placed undeclared income in Switzerland. 

The team headed by Justice MB Shah, a former Supreme Court judge has been set up under directions from the Supreme Court, which had in 2011 ordered that a committee that includes two retired judges be appointed to prepare an agenda for bringing back money stashed away in secret bank accounts abroad.

The previous UPA government had resisted the SC order, saying that a court-monitored investigation was unnecessary because agencies like the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate were handling the inquiry.

The Supreme Court had since censured the government at a series of hearings and given a deadline of 1 June 2014 for constituting the SIT.

Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani has been instrumental in the securing a Supreme Court order for the constitution of the Special Investigation Team to probe the black money case.

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