Black money menace: Swiss exchange 'lawful' info with India

Black money menace: Swiss exchange 'lawful' info with India

 With India stepping up its pursuit of alleged black money in Swiss banks, Switzerland says it is exchanging information with Indian authorities on all lawful requests, but cannot help on enquiries based on stolen banking data.

The European country, which has often been accused of being the most favoured place for stashing illicit wealth by Indians, also said it is "committed to resolving any open questions with India regardless of the upcoming elections".

The issue of Indians using the famed secrecy walls of Swiss bank accounts to hide black money has been a matter of great debate in India, while it is becoming one of the major talking points in the run up to Lok Sabha polls scheduled to start next month.

India has stepped up pressure on Switzerland in recent months to get information about alleged untaxed money held by some Indians in Swiss banks.

However, Indian authorities are believed to have got initial information about such Swiss accounts through third-party countries, who had shared relevant details with India after getting holding of allegedly stolen banking data.

Emphasising that requests based on stolen bank accounts information cannot be entertained, Switzerland's Finance Ministry confirmed that the two countries have been in constant contact in recent months to discuss tax issues.

Rejecting charges that Switzerland is not cooperating with India, a Swiss Federal Department of Finance spokesperson said from Berne that "the relationship between India and Switzerland continues to be one of mutual trust".

"Switzerland understands India's wish to fight tax evasion. Switzerland trusts that India shares its conviction that any solution can only be found within applicable law and that both parties must respect their national and international legal obligations.
"Switzerland, for example, cannot grant administrative assistance for requests based on information initially obtained through a criminal offence under Swiss law (for example, stolen bank information).

"Switzerland is responding and exchanging information with respect to requests submitted by India in accordance with the Swiss-Indian agreement for the avoidance of double taxation. "Thus, Switzerland is responding and exchanging information with respect to a number of other requests submitted by India in accordance with the Swiss-Indian agreement for the avoidance of double taxation," the official added.

The comments assume significance since on February 17 Finance Minister P Chidambaram while talking about black money menace had specifically mentioned Switzerland as one of the jurisdictions not extending co-operation.

While the government has often talked about steps being taken to address the black money menace, opposition parties like the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have already termed it as a major issue for the upcoming polls.

According to the Swiss government official, an expert delegation from Switzerland visited India in early February to discuss tax issues.

Despite efforts by the Alpine nation to shed its banking secrecy tag, Switzerland is still perceived in some quarters as a safe haven reluctant to share information.

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