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Black money pursuit: Swiss amend key law under pressure from other countries

Sunday, 10 August 2014 - 4:39pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: PTI

Under pressure from India and other countries, Switzerland has made key changes in its local laws governing assistance to foreign nations in their pursuit of black money allegedly stashed in Swiss banks.

These amendments, which have come into force this month, would allow India and other countries to make 'group requests' for information about suspected black money hoarders, while Swiss authorities would not give prior intimation to suspected individuals or entities before sharing their details. However, the onus would be on India (or any other requesting nation) to establish that any prior intimation to the account holders before information exchange would defeat the "purpose of the administrative assistance" and the success of investigation would be thwarted.

In one of the major roadblocks to effective and timely exchange of information with foreign authorities about suspected illicit account holders, the Swiss laws provide that the person concerned would get a prior intimation of any such international assistance and he or she is also given an opportunity to appeal against this decision and inspect the files before being transmitted to the requesting nation.

While Switzerland has decided to retain these clauses in its amended Federal Act on International Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, it has now incorporated at least 10 changes in this Act to lower guard on its famed banking secrecy walls to improve its information-exchange framework. According to one of these amendments forming part of a new Gazette Notification, "If the foreign authority demonstrates grounds for secrecy regarding certain case documents, the FTA (Federal Tax Administration) may refuse to allow a person entitled to appeal to inspect the corresponding files...."

Swiss Federal Council decided in June this year to relax this key legislation, following an intense pressure from India and other countries probing cases of suspected tax crimes.
The Swiss Parliament approved revision of this Act in March this year, while a referendum deadline for the proposed amendments expired on July 10, 2014. In reply to queries on the status of the new Act, a spokesperson for Switzerland's State Secretariat for International Financial Matters told PTI, "I can confirm that the revised Federal Act on International Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters entered into force on August 1."

However, the new Act explicitly mentions that the Swiss authorities would not consider a request if "it constitutes a fishing expedition" or "if it violates the principle of good faith, particularly if it is based on information obtained through a criminal offence under Swiss law." This would thwart India's attempts to seek information on the so-called HSBC list, which Switzerland alleges that Indian and other foreign authorities got hold of after a former bank employee stole data about customers

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