3 years in row, no claimants for India-linked dormant Swiss bank accounts

As per the latest data released by the Swiss National Bank (SNB), funds parked by Indians with Swiss banks rose 50 per cent to CHF 1.01 billion (about Rs 7,000 crore) in 2017.

3 years in row, no claimants for India-linked dormant Swiss bank accounts
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Zurich/New Delhi: It is the third year since Swiss banks made public a list of accounts lying dormant without any trace of owners and no claimant has come forward for those with Indian links, even as a political slugfest continues in India over alleged black money parked there.

The list of all such accounts -- of Swiss citizens and foreigners including from India -- was first published by the Switzerland Banking Ombudsman in December 2015 and it keeps getting updated as and when an account is declared dormant.

This is to allow real owners of the accounts or their legal heirs to stake a claim with necessary proof.

The details get deleted from the list when a successful claim is made and this was the case for as many as 40 accounts and two safe deposit boxes in the year 2017 itself, as per the latest information shared by the Ombudsman.

However, the list of over 3,500 such accounts continues to have at least six with links to India since December 2015, as no successful claimant has come forward for them.

Switzerland was perceived to be among the safest havens globally for financial assets for many years before a global crackdown on alleged tax evasion by using such strong banking privacy practices as prevalent in Swiss banks led to Switzerland agreeing to tighten its rules.

Subsequently, Switzerland has framed new laws for greater cooperation with several other countries on exchange of information and for stricter clampdown on illicit activities like money laundering and tax frauds.

India is one of the countries with which Switzerland has inked an automatic exchange of information pact on financial matters, while the Alpine nation has already been providing details on bank accounts in cases where Indian authorities have been able to provide proof of wrongdoings.

As per the latest data released by the Swiss National Bank (SNB), funds parked by Indians with Swiss banks rose 50 per cent to CHF 1.01 billion (about Rs 7,000 crore) in 2017.

The funds, described by SNB as 'liabilities' of Swiss banks or 'amounts due to' their clients, are official figures disclosed by Swiss authorities and do not indicate to the exact quantum of the much-debated alleged black money held in the famed safe havens of Switzerland.

The official figures, disclosed annually by Switzerland's central bank, also do not include the money that Indians, NRIs or others might have in Swiss banks in the names of entities from different countries.

It has been often alleged that Indians and other nationals seeking to stash their illicit wealth abroad use multiple layers of various jurisdictions, including tax havens, to shift the money in Swiss banks.

Also, with Switzerland putting in place an automatic information exchange framework with India and various other countries, the famed secrecy walls of Swiss banks are said to have crumbled. India will start getting this automatic data from next year.

However, the increase in Indians' money in Swiss banks has already triggered a sharp opposition attack on the government, which in turn has said that it would be wrong to assume that all funds deposited in Swiss banks were 'black money' and strong action would be taken against wrongdoers.

The funds officially held by Indians with banks in Switzerland accounts for only 0.07 per cent of the total funds kept by all foreign clients in the Swiss banking system, as per the SNB data.

In terms of the dormant accounts, at least three individuals from India and three others of Indian origin -- but resident of other countries -- continue to figure on the list of unclaimed bank accounts made public by Switzerland since December 2015.

While specific figure for India-linked dormant accounts is not known, the total holding in all such accounts is estimated at about 44 million Swiss franc (about Rs 300 crore).

Of the six with Indian links, place of residence of three has been mentioned as India, while it is Paris (France) for one and London for another. The place of residence for the sixth person was not disclosed.

These are Pierre Vachek and Bernet Rosmarie from 'Bombay', the earlier name of Mumbai, Bahadur Chandra Singh from Dehradun, Dr Mohan Lal from Paris, Suchah Yogesch Prabhudas from London. Kishore Lall is the person whose place of residence was not disclosed.

The date of birth has also been disclosed in one case ? that is for Vachek as January 1, 1908.

All these accounts were added to the public list in December 2015 and would remain there till December 2020, unless a successful claim is made for the money.

There are also some such accounts from Pakistan, including of one Nawaz Haq of Wazirabad, which was added to the list in November last year.

The list is aimed at giving their owners or their legal heirs a chance to claim the funds in these accounts. Only those accounts form part of the list which have got at least 500 Swiss francs and have remained unclaimed for at least 60 years.

The list contains a large number of people from Switzerland itself, as also from Germany, France, the UK, the US, Turkey, Austria and various other countries.

If no legitimate party claims the assets that have been published within one year of publication, the banks can transfer the assets in question to the government.

The claim deadline for potential legitimate claimants is five years if the assets in question have been dormant since at least 1954.

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