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Large-scale account inheritance emerges in black money probe

large-scaleAccounts inherited from family members as also from previously-constituted trusts or companies have come to the fore in a big way, as India seeks further details from Switzerland about those suspected to have ‘unaccounted’ wealth parked in the Swiss banks.

Hundreds of individuals and entities, including 627 names mentioned in a list submitted by the government to the Supreme Court, are facing probe for allegedly having black money in foreign banks including in a Swiss branch of HSBC bank.

While Switzerland has agreed to provide ‘prompt’ assistance to India and reply to information requests in a time-bound manner, the Indian authorities are conducting their own probes before approaching the Swiss government.

The due diligence of names accessed by Indian government through various sources, including the so-called HSBC list shared by the French government, has found that many such accounts have been “inherited” by their current owners from their parents, other family members or now-defunct trusts and companies that were set up years ago.

While the exact number of such accounts could not be ascertained, sources said that there are “quite a few” such accounts on which India is seeking further details from the Swiss authorities.

Switzerland, long accused of being a safe haven for illicit funds, last month promised to extend all necessary assistance to India and reply to requests for information in a “time-bound” manner, or at least provide a reason for denial.

Explaining the treaty provisions about disclosure of such ‘secret’ information, a Swiss Finance Ministry spokesperson recently told PTI from Berne that authorities from the two countries are having “regular contacts on bilateral tax matters”, but refused to comment on particular cases citing ‘confidentiality’ clause of the Swiss-India tax treaty.

The government last week gave to the Supreme Court a list of 627 Indians with accounts in a Swiss branch of HSBC bank, on which probe for suspected black money is underway.

While this list was given in ‘sealed envelopes’, three other names were made public a day earlier as prosecution had been launched against those persons.

There has been a debate on whether disclosure of names, without prosecution, could violate tax treaties under which these names and other details are shared by foreign countries.

The exchange of information on tax matters between India and Switzerland is based on the double taxation agreement (DTA) and the protocol that was signed in 2010 between the two countries. It has been in force since October 2011.

This agreement is in line with international standards and provides for exchange of information on request.

The list of 627 persons with accounts in a Swiss branch of HSBC bank was received by India from the French government, while it had earlier got another list of Indians with suspected black money accounts from Germany.

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