New Delhi: Deposits in Swiss banks by Indians and Indian companies fell by 80% during the tenure of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the government said on Tuesday, as it claimed to have successfully cracked down on tax evaders.
Bringing back black money was one of NDA’s major election promises, and the alliance could use data backing the success of its initiatives ahead of the general elections in 2019.
The Swiss government clarified that the correct measure to look at deposits held by Indians is the locational banking statistics (LBS) collected by the Bank of International Settlements, said finance minister Piyush Goyal.
He added that the statistics shows non-bank loans and deposits (constituting individual and corporate deposits used as black money, and excluding inter bank transactions) held by Indians in Swiss banks has come down to $524 million in 2017, from $800 million in 2016 and $2.6 billion in 2013.
The NDA had been on the defensive after media reports citing statistics from the Swiss National Bank said that deposits by Indians in Swiss bank accounts rose 50% in 2017. The reports ran counter to the government’s anti-black money drive and saw many opposition parties questioning the efficacy of the government’s initiatives.
The government said that a letter to finance minister Piyush Goyal from Swiss ambassador Andreas Baum has clarified that all assets held by Indian residents in Switzerland are not undeclared. Data provided by the Swiss National Bank also included non-deposit liabilities, business of Swiss branches located in India, inter-bank transactions and fiduciary liability and, hence, it may not be a correct measure.
The Swiss authorities, instead, suggested using locational banking statistics, the government said. LBS measures international banking activity from a residence perspective, focusing on the location of banking office and captures around 95% of all cross-border banking activity.
The government added that under the information exchange agreement signed with Switzerland last December, both countries have started collecting data from 1 January 2018, and would start exchange of data from September 2019 on an annual basis.
The Narendra Modi government has taken a number of steps to tackle the menace of black money. India enacted a stringent black money act to crack down on individuals who had stashed illegal wealth abroad. It also strengthened the Benami Property Act to put a stop to the purchase of property by tax evaders in other people’s names. The Modi government also cancelled the legal validity of high currency notes of ₹ 500 and ₹ 1,000 denominations, in its fight against black money.
N. Bhaskar Rao, a New-Delhi based political analyst said the numbers are being represented in a manner to suit the political narrative. “It remains to be seen how it will impact the political narrative around 2019 elections as the ground reality is very different and there are many other important issues that impact the electorate."