The Swiss government will continue to withhold information on Swiss bank account holders, unless the Indian government shows “independent investigations of fraud” in each case, Switzerland’s Ambassador to India Linus Von Castelmur said.
In his first interview on the issue, Mr. Castelmur acknowledged that the Indian government had sent some queries based on investigations on black money to the Swiss government, but many were part of a “fishing expedition.”
“There are several cases of alleged fraud, where the Indian authorities have done independent investigations and those cases are going fine. We are cooperating on them,” Mr. Castelmur said. “When they come to us on the basis of the stolen [HSBC] list, or data not from proper sources, Switzerland cannot cooperate.”
“Very often, when talking about black money, everyone is looking to Switzerland, but there are many other places, and places within India they should look too”
Mr. Castelmur said some of the processes would be speeded up since the Swiss federal council agreed to join the “global framework on automatic exchange of tax information” in November, which would become the world standard by 2017. However, despite the NDA government’s push for “bringing back black money,” it has yet to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development-led framework, partly because the Supreme Court has taken cognisance of the matter.
More than $2.5 billion, or Rs. 14,000 crore, of deposits in Swiss banks belong to Indian account holders, according to the Swiss National Bank (SNB). While only being able to confirm its “provenance, not legal status,” the Swiss Ambassador said more emphasis should be placed on black money in India.
“Very often, when talking about black money, everyone is looking to Switzerland, but there are many other places, and places within India they should look too,” he said.
He termed the allegation that the Swiss authorities were attempting to protect the banking industry rather than helping investigations against account holders a “misperception,” but admitted that the revelations of fraud against Swiss banks had led to a “crisis.”
“I think the Swiss banking sector is in a crisis and has had to reinvent itself and find new values. Not only to respect the laws of the countries they are operating [in]but also develop a value system for what is right. Yes, it (re-routing of black money) happened. But Swiss banks and others have been heavily fined recently, so the remedial process is in place.” “But you cannot say, give us all Indian account holders, this is not possible. You can’t just go on a fishing expedition. But if you have evidence, we will go ahead,” he said.