Amid India enacting a law to deal with the menace of black money stashed abroad, Switzerland on Friday said that it is considering amendments in its domestic laws, which may lead to sharing of banking information with other countries even on the basis of the so-called ‘stolen data’.
“We will have a black money discussion (with finance minister Arun Jaitley) to solve and clarify (the issue). We are on our way to ask our Parliament to adjust our law to make sure that we can contribute to regularise this specific situation (information on stolen data with respect to black money). The federal council will propose a clarification of the legal situation to Parliament and it will be taken in the second half of this year,” Johann Schneider Ammann, Swiss economic affairs minister said. Even as he expressed Switzerland’s commitment to cooperate with India on the issue of black money, Ammann refused to answer on the specific issue of the HSBC list, which was given to the Indian tax authorities by the French government in 2011 containing names of Indian accountholders in the bank in Geneva.
He said that Swiss laws need to be amended for technical assistance on stolen data and government will soon propose a framework on this after which Parliament will discuss and ratify it. The French list had 628 names in it, which nearly doubled to 1,195 following a global investigation in collaboration with The Indian Express.
The comments of the minister become significant as so far the Swiss government has stonewalled all queries from the income tax authorities regarding the HSBC list, on the grounds that its domestic laws do not permit sharing of information about the accountholders on the basis of stolen data.
However, the Swiss cabinet is working on addressing the issue of stolen data. Switzerland receives an average of 1,500 requests for information every year, “one of the world’s most frequently contacted countries for administrative assistance”, by its own admission. However, many of these requests are not fulfilled due to the domestic law of the country, a notorious tax haven due to its banking secrecy law.
When asked if the new black money law of India — Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015 – aimed at cracking down on tax evasion on foreign income and assets, will have ramifications for Swiss banks, Ammann said that it was too early to talk about it as the procedures and the law itself first needs to be understood. The new laws provides for strict punishment including up to ten years in jail and a total penalty of 120 per cent on such illegal funds.
“Switzerland is committed to follow international standards, but India should take note of the fact that we have a Parliamentary process and the Swiss government can only give its proposal,” the minister said adding that though time is a factor “we have to follow the procedures. Now there is a will to clarify. We can’t say as yet that it would be done or it would be done within such time period. The stolen data issue has to be discussed in Parliament”.