Berne/New Delhi: Stepping up its efforts to trace black money parked abroad, India has shot off at least 20 ‘administrative assistance’ requests to Switzerland in recent months seeking details of Indians suspected to have misused Swiss banks’ famed high-secrecy walls to evade taxes.
The individuals and companies about whom India has requested for information include at least three listed companies, former CEO of a real estate major, wife of a Delhi-based former bureaucrat, a Dubai-based Indian origin investment banker, a high-profile fugitive along with his wife and an UAE-based holding company, as also some Gujarati businessmen settled abroad and presumably in trading business.
Many of these are suspected to have maintained accounts in Swiss banks through offshore entities, including in Panama and British Virgin Islands. These requests for ‘administrative assistance’, which typically involves exchange of information on submission of proof by the requesting country about the account holder’s wrongdoing, have been documented by Swiss authorities in their Federal Gazette as per local laws to give the concerned person or entity a last chance to appeal against sharing of data.
While India and Switzerland last week signed a new pact for automatic exchange of information about account details September 2018 onwards, the pending requests have been made under their existing bilateral tax treaty.
In the past also, names of some Indian nationals figured in Switzerland’s Federal Gazette notifications after the Swiss authorities were approached by India for information about those people with regard to the pending tax-related probes against them. After following the due process prescribed under Swiss law, the information has been shared by Switzerland with India in some cases, pursuant to which the Indian authorities—including the tax department and Enforcement Directorate—have proceeded with their prosecution and other actions. However, the pace of seeking such details seems to have quickened in the recent months, going by the sudden spurt in the number of Indian names figuring in such notifications. So far in November alone, five Indian names have been disclosed, while a similar number of ‘administrative assistance’ requests were notified in October as well.
Since June this year, at least 20 such requests have been disclosed by the Swiss authorities. Typically, these notifications include name, nationality and date of birth of the concerned individual, while in case of companies, their names and the country of registration are mentioned.
For long, Switzerland has been known for strict secrecy clauses about details of foreigners having accounts in Swiss banks. However, under growing global pressure, Switzerland has begun sharing information in cases where other countries have been able to present some evidence of suspected illegalities.