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Swiss to share info on black money, says FM

Details will be provided for cases being investigated by the income tax department, provided India produces proof

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Arun Jaitley

The government on Friday said Switzerland had agreed to share the details of Indians who had stashed money abroad and figured on a list of HSBC Bank account holders if the evidence was collected by India independently.

The move will help the Centre address unaccounted money and tax evasion.

Earlier, India had asked Switzerland to provide information on about 700 Indian HSBC Bank account holders named on a list made available by French authorities. France had received the list after data was stolen by a disgruntled HSBC employee in 2011. Switzerland, however, resisted sharing information pertaining to these people, saying the data was stolen.

"Switzerland has indicated willingness to provide information in respect of cases for which investigations have been carried out by our Income Tax Department independently from what the Swiss government considers stolen data," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters at his residence here this evening.

He said there were a number of cases of account holders included on the HSBC list, which were investigated by the department. These, he added, were independent of the list obtained from French authorities.

Jaitely said Switzerland had agreed to assist India in securing confirmation of genuineness of bank documents and information on requests related to non-banking information, which would aid India in tax investigations. Swiss authorities will provide the information sought in a time-bound manner; otherwise, it will indicate the reasons why the cases cannot be responded to within the timeline agreed.

Switzerland has also assured it will commence talks with India for concluding an automatic exchange of information (AEOI) agreement between the two countries at the earliest. This is the first time Switzerland has agreed to start discussions on a bilateral agreement on AEOI.

Jaitley's statement came on a day when the Congress attacked the government for "sheer hypocrisy" in telling the Supreme Court that not all information on black money received from other countries could be made public, a stand taken by the United Progressive Alliance government and criticised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at that time.

In its election manifesto, the BJP had vowed to bring back black money stashed by Indians in foreign accounts.

The finance minister said the tax treaty signed by the Congress government in 1995 with Germany was constraining the Centre from declaring the names of those with black money abroad. He added these names could only be made public once investigation disclosures were made to court.

The government on Friday filed an interlocutory application in the Supreme Court, seeking clarification on its earlier orders related to confidentiality of information collected under tax treaties on illegal money stashed abroad. The matter will now be heard on October 28.

"If the government is not able to give a commitment to maintain confidentiality of information exchanged under tax treaties according to international standards, including under the new global standards for automatic exchange of information, it will not receive information about Indians hiding their money in other countries, including offshore financial centres and tax havens through multilayered entities with non-transparent ownership," the finance ministry said in a statement.

On October 15, an Indian delegation led by Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das had visited Switzerland and held discussions with Swiss authorities on issues relating to exchange of information in tax matters. The Swiss delegation was led by their Jacques de Watteville, secretary of international financial matters of Switzerland.

In August, Switzerland had amended its domestic laws, allowing other countries to make group requests for information about suspected black money hoarders. Through this, Switzerland won't give prior intimation to suspected individuals or entities before sharing their details.

First Published: Sat, October 18 2014. 00:59 IST