Illegal Swiss bank deposits to face harsh penal action: Jaitley

arun jaitley

Indians who have illegally stashed unaccounted money in Swiss banks would face harsh penal proceedings under the black money law after Switzerland starts sharing details of accounts from next year under a bilateral agreement on automatic exchange of information, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday.

Referring to media reports based on the latest data released by the Swiss National Bank showing a rise in Indian deposits last year and casting doubt on the efficacy of the government’s anti-black money measures, Jaitley described these as “misinformed reaction”.

“A news item has appeared today (Friday) indicating an increase of money by ‘Indians’ in the Swiss banking system. This has led to misinformed reaction in certain circles, raising a query whether the government’s anti-black money steps have yielded results,” Jaitley, who is currently convalescing, said in a blog.

The data released on Thursday showed that after falling for three years in succession, money parked by Indians in Swiss banks rose 50 per cent in 2017 over the previous year, to Swiss Francs 1.02 billion.

Jaitley said that Switzerland has amended its domestic laws involving all disclosures and entered into a treaty also with India on real-time flow of account information.

The agreement for automatic exchange of information was signed between Switzerland and India last November under which both countries would start collecting data in accordance with the global standards in 2018 and exchange it from 2019.

“The flow of information is starting in January 2019. Any illegal depositor knows that it is a matter of months before his name becomes public and he will be subjected to the harsh penal provisions of the black money law in India,” Jaitley wrote.

In this regard, he underlined that “those who participate in a public discourse must understand these basic facts before expressing an opinion which may be ill-informed”.

“To assume that all the deposits are per se tax evaded money or that Switzerland in the matter of illegal deposits is what it was decades ago, is to start on a shaky presumption.”

Jaitley pointed out that past investigations by the Income Tax Department have shown that such deposits include funds held by persons of Indian origin who now hold foreign passports, as well as money belonging to non-resident Indians (NRIs).

These funds include “also monies belonging to resident Indians who have made legitimate investments abroad, including transfer of money under the liberalised remittance schemes,” he said.

“It is only monies kept by resident Indians outside these categories which become actionable,” he added.

Jaitley also said that the NDA government had initiated a campaign involving various steps to flush out black money.

Earlier on Friday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who holds temporary charge of the Finance portfolio, said Indian deposits in Swiss banks have been decreasing in recent years due to the various measures of the Central government against black money.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an Institute of Cost Accountants of India event here, Goyal said that 40 per cent increase in foreign remittances are on account of the Reserve Bank of India’s Liberalised Remittance Scheme brought during the previous UPA government under which a resident Indian can remit $250,000 per year.

Over the last three years, among the measures taken by the Indian government to combat black money include the enactment of Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, the Income Declaration Scheme in 2016 and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana last year.