In a move that could add real bite to India’s war on black money, the Swiss Federal Council on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow the government to share “stolen data” with other countries.
The council, Switzerland’s highest executive authority, said in a statement: “The Federal Council initiated the consultation proceedings on the revision of the Tax Administrative Assistance Act, which provides for an easing of Swiss practices with regard to stolen data. Partner countries find Switzerland’s current practice too restrictive… the most pertinent illustration is the case of India (HSBC list).”
The statement said that it would now be possible to respond to requests if a foreign country has obtained the “stolen data” via normal administrative assistance channels or from public sources.
Switzerland has for long maintained that its domestic laws don’t acknowledge leaked data that is considered “stolen”. This stance has thwarted New Delhi’s probe into a list of more than 600 accounts that are suspected to be black money stashes of Indians.
A list of more than 600 Indian black money holders was first acquired by whistleblower Herve Falciani who in 2006 leaked the names of thousands of illicit bank account holders at HSBC in Geneva, where he was employed. Believed to be one of the biggest security breaches in Swiss banking history, Falciani had obtained details of some 127,000 accounts worth 180 billion euros.
Falciani had given the list to the French government which in turn gave it to India. The whistleblower had said that India accounts for only 2 MB of the 200 GB of data. The Indian government had contacted Falciani and discussed terms for his ‘help’.
Interestingly, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in an international collaborative effort had also named 1,668 Indians with HSBC bank accounts in Geneva, Switzerland.
Detection, recovery and repatriation of black money stashed illegally in foreign tax havens abroad — including in Switzerland — has been one of the pet themes of the BJP-led NDA government.
The Swiss parliament is also soon expected to take up the process to erect a platform to enable the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) between the governments of Switzerland and India in a bid to jointly combat the menace of black money.
“The domestic procedures regarding AEOI are still underway. The Swiss parliament will start to deal with the subject this autumn,” Anne Césard, spokesperson from the Swiss state secretariat for international financial matters, told Hindustan Times.