India's probe into Swiss bank accounts held by its citizens has taken a 'royal' turn with the Indian authorities approaching Switzerland's tax department for details about two members of the ruling family of the erstwhile princely state of Sangli, now in Maharashtra.
Following India's request for "administrative assistance" in this matter, the Federal Tax Administration of Switzerland has issued a public notice asking the royal couple -- Vijaysingh Madhavrao Patwardhan and Rohini Vijaysingh Patwardhan -- to appoint their nominees to deal with this matter and file their objections, if any, against sharing of information.
Interestingly, the Patwardhans are parents of yesteryear Bollywood actress Bhagyashree.
Typically, this is the first step towards sharing of information by Swiss authorities with the requesting jurisdiction under Switzerland's regulations about sharing of financial information in tax matters.
In two separate but identical notices dated November 19 and published in Switzerland's latest federal gazette in Berne, the Patwardhans have been asked to appoint their nominees within 10 days.
The notices did not disclose any further details, besides their names and dates of birth (August 24, 1942 for Vijaysingh Patwardhan and October 27, 1950 for his wife Rohini).
Repeated attempts to contact the family did not elicit any response, while queries sent to the registered e-mail ID of a company where the two Patwardhans are listed as directors also remained unanswered.
The company, Mangalmurti Investment and Exports Private Limited, is registered with Mumbai Registrar of Companies (RoC), with 'Sangli Villa' in Mumbai as its registered address.
Vijaysingh and Rohini Patwardhan are listed as the only two directors of the company, while the RoC records show its status as 'active', the last AGM date as September 30, 2019 and the date of last balance sheet as March 31, 2019.
The company, which has an authorised capital of Rs 15 lakh, was incorporated on April 25, 1979, which is also the date since when Patwardhans have been its directors.
According to various accounts, Vijaysingh Patwardhan became the last king of Sangli after death of his grandfather in 1965, but he had developed keen interest in business early in his age and also dabbled in film music composition for some time. He is credited with setting up educational, medical and other facilities for people of Sangli over the years.
One of his daughters, Bhagyashree, became an overnight star after her debut lead role in superhit Hindi movie 'Maine Pyar Kiya' in 1989.
While an automatic exchange of information on financial matters has already come into force between India and Switzerland and the first such exchange took place in September this year, the Swiss authorities have been issuing such notices regularly to Indian residents having accounts in Switzerland-based banks on receipt of requests accompanied with prima facie evidence of financial wrongdoings, including stashing of suspected illicit funds.
A large number of such notices have been issued in recent months, including against people already facing black money probe back in India. Once such notice was recently issued to Gautam Khaitan, an accused in the AgustaWestland chopper scam case.
While Swiss bank accounts have been a matter of heated political debate for many years in India due to suspicion that they were being used to hoard black money, it has also been suspected that people linked to the erstwhile princely states had stashed some funds in banks in Switzerland.
The Swiss government has also been making details of dormant accounts public since 2015 to allow their claimants to submit necessary proof to get access to those funds, which included at least 10 accounts linked to Indians.
These included some accounts linked to Indian residents and nationals from the British rule era. However, not a single dormant account linked to an Indian has been successfully claimed in the last six years, as per the records available with the Swiss authorities.
The list included close to 2,600 dormant accounts when it was first made public in December 2015, which had around 45 million Swiss francs (over Rs 300 crore) lying unclaimed since at least 1955. There were also nearly 80 unclaimed safety deposit boxes when the list was first made public for claims from the real owners or their heirs.
More accounts are being added every year since then after they become dormant under the Swiss banking laws. The list now includes nearly 3,500 accounts.
Generally, the deadline for submitting requests is one year from the date of such dormant accounts being made public, but a larger time-frame of five years has been given for accounts that had the last customer contact in 1954 or earlier.
The claims can be submitted by the original account owner as also by his or her legal heirs.
If no request is received within the deadline, or if the bank finds the claims unjustified, the bank needs to hand over the assets to the Federal Finance Administration of Switzerland, thus making all rights of former customers null and void.