German, Swiss govts promise help on black money; assert secrecy

NEW Delhi, February 6 (PTI): Germany and Switzerland have promised full support to India in unearthing black money stashed in their countries, but have asserted that their secrecy clause - barring Indian government from making the names public - be strictly adhered to. Germany, which last year provided the names of some Indians having secret accounts in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank, will readily share more names whenever it comes across any, a German government official told PTI from Berlin.
“Relevant data are always passed as a so-called spontaneous information from the (German) Federal Bureau of Taxes to the tax authorities of affected countries,” a spokesperson for Germany’s Finance Ministry said. However, the official added that such information can’t be made public and should only be used by the competent authorities. A top Swiss government official also asserted that the information to be shared by Swiss authorities with India, once the revised tax treaty between two countries comes into force, can’t be made public and should be “treated as secret.”
A spokesperson of Swiss Finance Ministry said from Berne that any information received should be treated as secret and should be disclosed only to persons or authorities, including courts and administrative bodies, involved in enforcement or prosecution procedures. He was referring to the “exchange of information” clause in the amending protocol, as per which the Indo-Swiss tax treaty is being revised to facilitate the sharing of details related to persons accused of tax evasion or fraud and have stashed illicit wealth in Swiss banks. The Indian government is facing intense pressure from opposition, as also courts, to act tough against those who have amassed illicit wealth in foreign countries that have strict secrecy rules.
India is putting in place relevant treaties with both Switzerland and Liechtenstein, a European nation, to get access to details about Indians having illicit wealth in bank accounts there. However, names of certain entities having accounts in LGT Bank of Liechtenstein were given to India last year by Germany. These names were part of about 1,400 stolen bank account details that were purchased by Germany, which later shared the related details with India. The German official said that these details were shared with India “free of charge”, on reciprocal basis. India has submitted to the Supreme Court the names it got from Germany, but has refused to make them public, citing secrecy clause in its treaties with foreign countries.
However, some names have been published in the media, claiming them to be part of the list obtained from Germany. Reacting to these reports, the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday told reporters in Kolkata that the names could not be made public, but notices have been served to 17 entities in this case and prosecution has begun.