At long last, there is hope that Indian money, stashed away in secret, numbered accounts in Swiss banks, can be brought back to India. This follows Switzerland signing the multilateral convention on mutual administrative aid in tax matters. This implies that the tiny nation in the heart of Europe, which had become a byword for banking secrecy, is prepared to break its own time-tested laws on banking secrecy. To assume that wisdom finally dawned on Switzerland is not to understand the circumstances in which it signed the international convention. Pressure had, in fact, been building on the Swiss authorities, whose banking rules were at variance with transparency laws in most other nations.
Over the last few years, whistle-blowers have exposed how influential persons and firms have stashed away their ill-gotten wealth in Swiss banks—which have huge funds at their disposal—disproportionate to their size and operations. Small wonder that even when a writer of Dan Brown’s eminence describes the fictional Depository Bank of Zurich and how account holders access their safes in which treasures are kept, people tend to believe them as true. Such has been the infamy of Swiss banks as the ultimate depository of all that is ill-gotten! But, things have not been looking up for these banks.
For instance, in recent years, countries like the US, Germany and France have managed to get the information they wanted from Swiss banks after threatening to impose stiff penalties on them. They did not want a situation in which their citizens or companies evaded taxes to deposit the illegal money in any foreign banks. On the other hand, the Indian government has been pleading helplessness in getting information about Indians holding accounts in such banks on the ground that the rules were against such disclosures. Now that Switzerland is committed to comply with international norms on sharing of information to protect each country’s tax laws, India should be able to get its hands on the hidden wealth of Indians, which belongs to this country.