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Swiss banks cannot act as any country's tax inspector
May, 16th 2009

As India awaits the poll results with bated breath, the controversy over black money stashed away abroad was further stoked by the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) whose spokesperson told TOI on Friday that Swiss banks cannot work as any country's tax inspector and that the association has requested the Swiss authorities to examine each request carefully to make sure a real crime is involved before agreeing upon revealing a client's identity or assets.

The spokesperson also rubbished reports that it had ever issued a report on black money deposited in Swiss banks by Indians which he said was being passed around like the Gospel truth.

Unlike in India, tax evasion is not looked upon as a crime by Swiss banks. The SBA spokesperson, James Nason, while replying to a query from this paper, said that taxes are the personal responsibility of citizens and not banks. "If they suspect an existing client is using his account for criminal purposes the banks are obliged by law to freeze the account and make a report to the authorities. However, it is not the job of Swiss banks to play the role of a foreign country's tax inspector and find out whether that person has paid all his taxes,'' said Nason, even as he refrained from making any comment on Pune resident Hassan Ali Khan who is alleged to have deposited $8 billion in secret accounts and whose case has been taken up by Indian authorities with their Swiss counterparts.

The right to privacy, he said, in Switzerland can be suspended by a judge when a criminal investigation is underway and that the Swiss authorities can order and authorise a Swiss bank to deliver the relevant account information.

Nason also scoffed at the figures being quoted by political parties in India on the black money allegedly lying in Swiss banks saying that these were meant only for the election campaign. The BJP has suggested that the actual amount could be as high as $1.4 trillion. "At best, these are speculation, and at worst pure fantasy. No one ever gives a source for these figures, neither does anyone explain the methodology used to arrive at them and I strongly suspect they have been contrived to serve the purposes of an election campaign,'' said Nason, as he wondered if there is not a single penny of Indian "black" money in London, New York, Hong Kong or Singapore.

"Swiss banks have no interest at all in attracting dirty money and well-established procedures exist to identify, freeze and report funds of possible criminal origin and also to give international legal assistance to foreign countries investigating crimes,'' he added.

"We have noticed, however, that in some countries, and, of course, India is not one of them, where justice is a commodity purchased by the kilo like potatoes and the system of international judicial assistance in criminal matters has been abused to frame, damage or destroy political or commercial rivals. We have thus urged the Swiss authorities to examine each request carefully to make sure a real crime is involved,'' he said.

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