A week after a high-level delegation of the revenue department met Swiss authorities in a bid to persuade them to assist with details of the 700-odd Indians who are reported to have bank accounts with the HSBC Bank in Geneva, the NDA government is set to send the first batch of 50 names to Switzerland.
“The Swiss authorities have agreed to confirm the authenticity of the HSBC list. This is a breakthrough in the investigations,” said a senior government functionary. “As the first step, we will send the names of 50 account holders to Switzerland and ask them to confirm if these accounts exist. That will be our confirmation.”
Some details of the 700 HSBC account holders, as first reported by The Indian Express, were obtained by India in 2011. The Swiss government has since been denying any more details, saying that the request dealt with data stolen by an HSBC employee and that their local laws do not permit information exchange where a possible criminal angle could be invoked.
But a joint statement released in Berne last week, after Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das met Swiss State Secretary for International Financial Matters, Jacques de Watteville, said: “The Swiss authorities would assist in obtaining confirmation on genuineness of bank documents on request by the Indian side and also swiftly provide information on requests related to non-banking information… the Swiss competent authority will provide the Indian side with the requested information in a time-bound manner or else indicate the reasons why the cases cannot be answered within the agreed timeline.”
The high-level delegation led by Das included Chairman of the Central Board of Direct taxes (CBDT) K V Chowdary and Joint Secretary (Foreign Taxation and Tax research) Akhilesh Ranjan.
As recently as March this year, the Swiss authorities had declined to cooperate with India, even in cases where the Income Tax department had gathered evidence through independent investigations. The then Finance Minister P Chidambaram had written to his Swiss counterpart that further non-cooperation could effect bilateral ties between the two countries.
He had said that since India had confirmed tax violation issues existed for several among the list of 700 HSBC bank account holders, Switzerland should assist with banking transfer and account balance details under provisions of the Double Taxation Avoidance Convention signed between the two countries.