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Infomation requests beyond tax pact cannot be entertained: Switzerland government
May, 09th 2014

With India stepping up pressure for data on alleged illicit funds parked in Swiss banks, Switzerland has asserted that it cannot positively respond to requests which are beyond the ambit of bilateral tax treaty.

Reiterating that it is committed to fighting tax evasion, Switzerland also said both nations should respect their national and international legal obligations.

The Swiss government's latest response comes against the backdrop of Finance Minister P Chidambaram shooting off another letter to his Swiss counterpart raising concerns about the Alpine nation denying information on alleged unaccounted money held by Indians in banks in Switzerland.

In the letter, Chidambaram had strongly objected to Switzerland's denial of information about account details of certain Indians at HSBC's Swiss bank branches, in whose cases "incriminating evidence of tax evasion" have been found.

"Like India, Switzerland is committed to fighting tax evasion and in this regard wishes to cooperate with India in the matter of administrative assistance within applicable law," a Swiss Federal Department of Finance spokesperson told PTI from Bern.

Co-operation on tax matters between the two countries are based on the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA), which was amended by a protocol in August 2010.

"This agreement, which is in line with the international standard, allows for the exchange of foreseeably relevant tax information related to fiscal years from 2011 on.

"On this basis, several requests have already received a positive response by Switzerland, including requests related to banking information. Requests that do not meet the provisions set out in the DTA cannot be answered positively," the spokesperson said.

Chidambaram has written at least three letters to his Swiss counterpart Eveline Widmer Schlumpf within four months on the matter of sharing information about alleged illicit funds parked in banks there by Indians.
Noting that several letters have been exchanged between Indian and Swiss Finance Ministers, the spokesperson said Switzerland "highly values its bilateral relations with India".

"Like India, Switzerland is committed to fighting tax evasion and in this regard wishes to co-operate with India in the matter of administrative assistance within applicable law.

"Switzerland also trusts that India shares its resolve that both parties as democracies, ruled by law, must respect their national and international legal obligations," the spokesperson said.

With Swiss government not providing certain information, Chidambaram in his letter had also said that an effective exchange of tax-related information was "extremely important" for economic co-operation between the two countries.

Switzerland rejected India's request saying the information was being sought on the basis of stolen data and claimed that its local laws do not permit exchange of information in such cases where some criminality may be involved for getting the data.

Countering the claims, Chidambaram had said that India's request "is based on data obtained legally under a DTAC (Direct Tax Avoidance Convention) with a third country and India is not party to commission of any criminal offence in Switzerland in this regard".

Long perceived as a safe haven for stashing away alleged illicit funds by Indians and other foreign nationals, Switzerland under global pressure has agreed to ease its banking secrecy laws in recent years.

Earlier this week, Switzerland and 46 other countries agreed upon automatic exchange of information on tax matters.

These nations endorsed the 'Declaration on Automatic Exchange of Information in Tax Matters' under the aegis of Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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