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Black money: Swiss agrees to provide details, says Jaitley

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New Delhi (Oct 17, 2014): Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday said Switzerland has agreed to share information on Indians having illicit money in Swiss banks on independent evidence provided in each case to the Alpine nation.

Besides, the Swiss government would "confirm the genuineness or otherwise" details of foreign accounts of Indian citizens procured by intelligence agencies, Jaitley said.

Talking to reporters here, the Finance Minister said Switzerland has agreed to share information related to HSBC and Liechestein lists, provided there is independent evidence collected by Indian authorities.

"The Government of India is taking all necessary steps to access tax-related information from foreign governments... Black money stashed abroad will be brought back," he said.

Switzerland has agreed to assist Indian authorities on priority basis and provide requested banking information in a time-bound manner following a meeting of high-level officials of both the countries earlier this week.

Earlier, the Swiss government had refused to share information on names mentioned in these lists saying that they were stolen data.

According to Jaitley, the lists were procured from other countries through proper channels.

The Finance Minister also said that government will make public the names of people who have illicit wealth in offshore accounts once formal charges are framed.

"We have no difficulty in making the names public," Jaitley said, adding that it was constrained in making the disclosures due to a double taxation pact signed by the then Congress government with Germany in 1995.

Further, India and Switzerland have agreed to discuss an agreement for automatic exchange of tax information.

Referring to the recent meeting between Indian and Swiss authorities in Berne, Jaitley said the crucial question was details of the people whose name have been given with regard to the accounts of the HSBC bank list.

"We only have a list of names and we wanted details of those accounts. The swiss so far has been completely refusing to give us any details on the grounds that these were stolen documents.

"A breakthrough was reached that in cases where there is independent investigation in India and evidence is collected in India, those details in relation to those accounts will be provided even if those accounts are on the HSBC list. So that absolute prohibition which the Swiss have imposed no longer exists," the Finance Minister said.

Jaitley further said Swiss Federal Tax authorities have agreed to "now confirm the genuineness or otherwise" of the documents with regard to foreign accounts.

So far, he said, the Swiss have never given India these details and these would now "have to be given in a time-bound manner and cannot go on endlessly".

"Another major breakthrough in this matter is that we have agreed to start discussion on a bilateral agreement between Switzerland and India on automatic exchange of information," he said.

Jaitley said if these discussions culminate in into an agreement, "perhaps the details which so far have eluded us would certainly come to us".

When asked how much illicit money could be involved with names probed by the Income Tax Department, the Finance Minister said such divulging such information could compromise the investigation.

Indian and Swiss governments have been in talks for the past few years on the matter of alleged black money parked by Indian citizens in banks in Switzerland.

As per Swiss National Bank's latest data, the total money held by Indians in Swiss banks stood at over Rs 14,000 crore as on December 2013, up by nearly 42 per cent from a year ago.

When asked whether the latest agreement with Switzerland, with regard to sharing of information, would come into effect retrospectively or prospectively, Jaitley said, it would be "with regard to all informations available in Switzerland... Information is not erased out".

A delegation, led by Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das, visited Switzerland on October 15 and held discussions with Swiss authorities on issues relating to information exchange in tax matters.

Meanwhile, in a release, the Finance Ministry said discussions were substantive and useful.

"Switzerland has indicated willingness to provide information in respect of cases where investigations have been carried out by our I-T Department independently from what Swiss government considers as stolen data," it said.

According to the government, this development is very significant because there are a number of cases of account holders included in the HSBC list which were investigated by the I-T Department independent of the HSBC list obtained from the French government.

"Earlier, the Swiss government had not agreed to provide any information on names which were included in the HSBC list on the ground that these were stolen data and have been obtained in breach of Swiss law," the release said.

Besides, the Swiss Federal Tax Administration has agreed that their competent authority would assist India in obtaining confirmation of genuineness of bank documents on requests by the Indian side as well as details related to requests relating to non-banking information.

These developments "are very significant and would assist the Income Tax Department in its investigations. These developments are significant steps in the context of government's resolve to combat unaccounted money and tax evasion," the release said.