BERNE/NEW DELHI: Paving the way for India to get instant access to details on Indians with Swiss accounts, a key parliamentary panel in Switzerland has approved an automatic information exchange pact between the two countries.
The Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxes of the Council of States -- a key panel of the Swiss Parliament's Upper House -- approved the proposed pact with India as also with 40 other countries, but suggested strengthening the provisions for individual legal claims.
It has asked the Swiss government to submit to Parliament an amendment "to strengthen concrete individual legal protection and to ensure that no exchange of information can take place for individual cases where a violation of essential legal claims is likely", as per the minutes of its last meeting on November 2.
The proposal will now be submitted for approval from the upper chamber of Swiss Parliament, the Council of States, in the winter session beginning November 27.
The pact will help provide a continuous access to details about alleged black money hoarders in once-all-secret Swiss banks. The information that could be exchanged under this framework would include account number, name, address, date of birth, tax identification number, interest, dividend, receipts from insurance policies, credit balance in accounts and proceeds from sale of financial assets.
The exchange will work like this -- If an Indian has a bank account in Switzerland, the bank concerned will disclose the financial account data to authorities there; the Swiss authority will automatically forward the information to its peer in India who can then examine the person's details.
To help check cross-border tax evasion, nearly 100 countries, including India and Switzerland, have so far committed to adopt this global standard for the automatic exchange of information (AEOI). However, domestic bank client confidentiality in Switzerland is not affected by the AEOI.
The keenly-awaited pact, which proposes the automatic information exchange on financial accounts between India and Switzerland with effect from the next year and first exchange of information in 2019, was approved by the Lower House of Parliament, the National Council, in September.
A major right-wing political party had raised objection to the pact with India and some other countries citing corruption and other risks, but those objections were rejected by a majority in the National Council, where the proposal was discussed by the Committee on Economy and Royalties of the National Council (CER-N), among others.
While approving the pact, the economic affairs committee of the Upper House has now asked the government to put some additional safeguards in the automatic information exchange framework with India and other countries.
With regard to the control mechanism decree, it has sought addition of an additional paragraph obliging the Federal Council -- the top decision-making body of the Swiss government equivalent to a Cabinet -- to examine regularly and from the point of view of risks whether the partner states (such as India) still fulfil the decisive conditions and then to consult the competent parliamentary committees.
"... It is thus a question of keeping the countries that can pose problems under the radar of the Federal Council and Parliament," the Council observed.
It also expressed concern that some people may be persecuted in some foreign countries following the introduction of the automatic information exchange pact and has accordingly suggested stronger legal protection measures.
Once the pact gets approval from the Upper House of Parliament, the automatic exchange of information will come into effect between India and Switzerland.
The decision is not subject to any referendum -- which means there should be no further procedural delay in its implementation after parliamentary approval.
The issue of black money has been a matter of big debate in India, and Switzerland has been long perceived as one of the safest havens for the illicit wealth allegedly stashed abroad by Indians.
Earlier, while agreeing to the pact with India and other countries in June, Switzerland had sought strict adherence to confidentiality and data security.
The Swiss government will prepare a situation report before the first exchange of data for which confidentiality and data protection requirements are to be strictly followed.