Black money: Swiss willing, but pact blocks disclosure: Jaitley

18 October 2014

Finance minister Arun JaitleyFinance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday said Switzerland had agreed to share information on illicit money stashed away by Indians in select cases but said a 1995 agreement with that country is acting as a constraint in disclosing names of the account holders.

The finance minister said the Swiss authorities have agreed to give information related to HSBC and Liechtenstein lists, provided there was independent evidence collected by Indian authorities, meaning it won't act on leaked information.

Also, he said, the Swiss authorities would ''confirm the genuineness or otherwise'' of details of foreign accounts of Indian citizens procured by intelligence agencies before offering to part with information on secret bank accounts.

''The centre is taking all necessary steps to access tax-related information from foreign governments... Black money stashed abroad will be brought back,'' he said, disclosing details of the discussions with the Swiss government held by an official team, which returned on Friday, he said.

On Friday, the finance ministry issued a brief statement of major government initiative to combat unaccounted money and tax evasion, following widespread criticism over the government's stance in the Supreme Court against disclosure of names of holders of accounts in HSBC and Liechtenstein Bank.

The finance ministry release said a delegation led by revenue secretary Shaktikanta Das and consisting of CBDT chairman KV Chowdary and Joint Secretary (FT&TR) Akhilesh Ranjan visited Switzerland on 15 October and held discussions with Swiss finance and tax authorities on issues relating to exchange of information in tax matters.

The Swiss delegation was led by Jacques de Watteville, secretary - international financial matters. The discussions were substantive and useful, the ministry stated.

In a Swiss-Indian joint statement released to the media yesterday, Switzerland had indicated willingness to provide information in respect of cases where investigations have been carried out by our IT department independently from what Swiss government considers as stolen data.

"This development is very significant because there are a number of cases of account holders, included in the HSBC list, which were investigated by our Income Tax Department independent of the HSBC list obtained from the French government it said. Earlier, the Swiss government had not agreed to provide any information on names which were included in the HSBC list on the ground that these were stolen data and have been obtained in breach of Swiss law," the release noted.

The Swiss Federal Tax Administration has agreed that its competent authority would assist India in obtaining confirmation of genuineness of bank documents on requests by the Indian side and also swiftly provide information on requests relating to non-banking information, according to the finance ministry.

"This willingness on the part of the Swiss authorities would help in our tax investigations," the finance ministry stated.

The Swiss authorities have also agreed to provide the requested information in a time bound manner or else indicate the reasons why the cases cannot be answered within the agreed timeline.

Switzerland has also assured that they would commence talks with India for concluding an Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) agreement between India and Switzerland at the earliest, after completion of their domestic procedures.

This is the first time that Switzerland has agreed to commence discussions on a bilateral agreement on AEOI, according to the finance ministry.

The above developments are very significant and would assist the Income Tax Department in its investigations, the release added.

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