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Promise of Swiss bank list

Zurich/New Delhi, June 22 (PTI): Switzerland has said it is readying a list of Indians suspected to have unaccounted money in Swiss banks and sharing it with New Delhi, which is trying to trace black money stashed abroad by its citizens.

A special investigation team (SIT) the Centre has formed has promised action if the suspects on the list are indeed found to have hidden black money in their accounts.

At the heart of the matter lies a petition veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani had moved in the Supreme Court in 2011, asking that the Centre be forced to reveal details of an allegedly Rs 70,000 crore worth of black money stashed in foreign banks by Indians.

A senior Swiss official said the names of certain Indian individuals and entities had come under the Swiss authorities’ scanner during a continuing exercise to identify the real beneficiary owners of funds held in various banks in the Alpine nation.

He said the list of these people and entities was being shared with India, while further details would be provided in due course. All necessary administrative assistance would be made available, he added.

The Swiss government official refused to reveal any identities or the sums involved, citing a confidentiality clause in the information-exchange framework between India and Switzerland.

He, however, said the entities and individuals were suspected to have held untaxed money in Swiss banks through structures such as trusts, domiciliary companies and other legal entities based out of countries other than India.

These entities’ Indian links came to the fore after the banks and regulatory authorities made inquiries about the sources of the funds and the beneficiary ownerships of such accounts.

Justice (retired) M.B. Shah, a former Supreme Court judge who heads the SIT, said the list would be verified and action taken against those found to have kept unaccounted money.

“It is not a list of only black money. It is a list of those persons who are also legally vested. It is a combined list. We are asking for the list of the said persons. Then we will verify. Then action is taken,” he said.

Two months ago, the UPA government had placed before the apex court a list of 26 Indians who it said held money in a bank in the European country of Liechtenstein. It had revealed only 18 names on the ground that no evidence of tax evasion had been found against the other eight.

“I’m very happy today,” Jethmalani said from London. “I’m hopeful that the NDA government will take the fullest possible advantage of this information.”

BJP spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh said: “It just shows the Narendra Modi government took a brave decision to form the SIT, which was pending since 2011.”

Aam Aadmi Party leader and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the SIT had been formed on the apex court’s orders, so the government cannot claim credit for this.

Data published by Switzerland’s central bank show that Indian money in the various Swiss banks rose by 43 per cent during 2013 to close at Rs 14,000 crore. This includes the money held by Indian clients directly as well as the funds that they hold through fiduciaries or wealth managers.

The Swiss official said all this money might not necessarily be illicit.