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FM calls for immediate end to secrecy at banks
June, 14th 2011

India on Monday made a strong pitch to end banking secrecy and sought more teeth in multilateral measures to deal with abusive transfer pricing. "We cannot say with certainty that bank secrecy is over in all cases," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at a tax conference jointly organised by his ministry and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in New Delhi. The government is under pressure to crack down on tax evaders . The issue has taken centerstage in Indian politics with civil society organisations demanding quick action to get back black money stashed away in foreign bank accounts.

Mukherjee said some countries had agreed to end banking secrecy only from a prospective date and were unwilling to share information on past bank transactions, raising questions about the efficacy of existing legal provisions for exchange of banking information.

He said there was a considered view that tax havens and low-tax jurisdictions helped fuel the global financial crisis, and that their opaque system and curbs on information exchange were matters of concern. "Concerns are not only on account of protecting revenue base, but also linked to financing of activities that are detrimental to national security interest," Mukherjee said. India is currently negotiating banking information exchange agreements with notax or low-tax countries to help it check tax crimes. Mukherjee stressed on the need to revisit the existing legal framework developed by the OECD in this regard.

On bribery in the private sector, the minister said a law to tackle it would be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. India must introduce such a law as it has ratified the UN convention against corruption.

The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill , 2011 prohibits accepting and giving ratification to or by foreign public officials.

Mukherjee said tax competition , driven by the presence of tax havens, was helping people park income outside their countries . He reiterated India's commitment to pursuing all necessary steps in coordination with countries on this issue.

The finance minister said that varied inter-company transactions , increased global business restructuring and location of companies in various tax jurisdictions had brought challenges to the tax administration on transfer pricing rules. Mukherjee sought stiff measures to check illicit outflows from developing countries and exploitation of their natural resources through abusive transfer pricing schemes.

Transfer pricing refers to the pricing of assets, tangible and intangible , services, and funds transferred within an organisation in a cross-border transaction . Misuse of this system by companies often leads to loss of revenue from natural resources for developing nations. Mukherjee said India had already overhauled its transfer pricing administration and tightened the procedures provisions to check misuse to shift profit to another country.

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