With a new ‘HSBC list’ of Swiss bank accounts revealing over 1,000 Indian names, Switzerland today said these are from “stolen data” — an assertion that might make it difficult for India to get details on these accounts without any additional evidence.
Switzerland, however, said the country is “strongly committed” to fight against the black money menace following change in its policy a few years ago.
“The published information is based on the known list with stolen data of the years 2007 and earlier,” a Switzerland government spokesperson said from Berne.
He was replying to queries with regard to revelations made by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) about one lakh account holders from across the world in Swiss branch of HSBC Bank.
The list has 1,668 Indians, while the number of actionable cases stands at 1,195 after taking into account duplication and some other factors. Collectively, these accounts had a balance of USD 4.1 billion (Rs 25,420 crore) till 2007.
When asked about steps being taken by Swiss authorities to ensure that illicit funds are not stashed in their banks, the Switzerland government spokesperson said, “Since 2009, Switzerland has changed its financial market policy and is strongly committed to the international standards and to the fight against tax evasion.”
In today’s list, there are 2,699 accounts linked to 1,688 Indians. Out of these, 1,403 accounts were opened between 1969 and 2006, while the maximum amount of money associated with a client connected to India was USD 876.3 million.
Among Indian names, 51 per cent have a Indian passport or nationality, while the remaining accounts were either linked to offshore companies, or were ‘numbered’ accounts.
Earlier, India had received from France a list of over 628 Indians with account in HSBC’s Geneva branch. That list was also part of the larger ‘HSBC list’, which a former bank employee had “secreted away” to the French government.
Switzerland, long known as a place with unbreakable banking secrecy, has come under intense global pressure, including from India, to crack down on illicit fund flows.
Armed with information received about its citizens holding secret accounts in Swiss banks, India has been seeking details from Switzerland, but most of these requests were being stonewalled by the European nation on the ground of those being based on stolen data.
Consequently, India has now changed its strategy and has decided to seek details on the basis of additional evidence collected by it on suspected cases of black money stashed in Swiss banks.
Earlier this morning, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also said that “names are immaterial if they are not backed by evidence”.
He said evidence is required in addition to information from stolen data, “so that a watertight case can be framed” and just names do not ensure proper proceeding in the court.
Switzerland has agreed to cooperate if India is able to provide some additional evidence even in cases of names collected through “stolen data”.
In its reaction, the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) today said the cases are from the past and emphasised that Switzerland now has strict laws in place.
“Cases from the past; Swiss financial centre has undergone profound change since 2008,” it said in a tweet.
Switzerland has strict laws and they must be respected; violations have to be investigated by authorities, the association said in another tweet.
SBA has 317 institutional members and about 18,500 individual members, according to its website.