BERNE/NEW DELHI: As India steps up its pursuit of black money stashed abroad, Switzerland today agreed to assist Indian authorities on a priority basis and provide requested banking information in a time-bound manner.
The Swiss authorities would also "assist in obtaining confirmation on genuineness of bank documents on request by the Indian side and also swiftly provide information on requests related to non-banking information".
The breakthrough, which comes after Switzerland's repeated refusal to share information with Indian authorities on alleged cases of black money stashed in Swiss banks, was achieved at a high-level meeting between senior government officials of the two countries in Berne.
"... the Swiss competent authority will provide the Indian side with the requested information in a time-bound manner or else indicate the reasons why the cases cannot be answered within the agreed timeline," a Swiss-Indian joint statement said after a high-level meeting between the officials of the two countries on tax matters.
The meeting took place in Berne between Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das and his Swiss counterpart, State Secretary for International Financial Matters, Jacques de Watteville.
There has been a huge political uproar over Indian black money allegedly stashed in Swiss banks and the new government has said it is committed to tackling this menace.
As per Swiss National Bank's latest data, the total money held by Indians in Swiss banks stood at over Rs 14,000 crore as on December 2013, up by nearly 42 per cent from a year ago.
Today's meeting followed a Swiss delegation visit to New Delhi in February 2014 and was the first high-level meeting between the two countries' tax and financial authorities since the new Indian government took up office in May this year.
Switzerland, which also agreed today to consider including India among the nations for automatic exchange of information, has been repeatedly rejecting India's requests for information on Indians named in a so-called HSBC list.
India has sought information on bank accounts and other details of the persons named in this list, but Switzerland has been refusing to cooperate saying these names were obtained "illegally" or through sale of stolen data by ex-employees.
Indian and Swiss governments have been in talks for the past few years on the matter of alleged black money parked by Indian citizens in banks in Switzerland, but there have been no major breakthrough despite having a bilateral treaty in this regard.
In July, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had informed Parliament that Switzerland had raised some legal issues with regard to providing details of Indian citizens who had parked illegal funds in Swiss banks.
Asserting that the government was making all efforts to get details of such accounts, Jaitley had also said it was collecting evidence in this regard.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT), chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice M B Shah, is looking into the menace of black money.
The officials from the two countries discussed various bilateral and multilateral tax and financial issues and also agreed on continuing the dialogue between the two countries, a statement from Swiss government said.
With regard to the application of the Swiss-Indian Double Taxation Agreement as revised by the Protocol of August 30 2010, both sides acknowledged the progress achieved in the bilateral cooperation between the two countries while noting there were still ongoing discussions on certain issues.
Das and Watteville reaffirmed their respective positions in this regard, while the Swiss officials "indicated that Switzerland would be willing to examine requests for which investigations have been carried out independently from what the Swiss government considers as data obtained in breach of
"In order to deal expeditiously with pending cases, Das agreed to indicate to the Swiss competent authority which cases should be dealt with as a matter of priority and to give additional information where appropriate.
"On this basis, the Swiss competent authority will provide the Indian side with the requested information in a time-bound manner or else indicate the reasons why the cases cannot be answered within the agreed timeline."