Five Indians have been named by the Swiss government among the several foreign nationals with Swiss bank accounts. They were publicly named in the Swiss federal gazette's April-May 2015 edition, along with citizens of Britain, US, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, and South Korea, The New Indian Express reported.
The five names from India—Gurjit Singh Kochar, Syed Mohamed Masood, Sneh Lata Sawhney, Chaud Kauser Mohamed Masood and Sangita Sawhney—have been asked by the Swiss Federal Tax Administration (FTA) to file an appeal within a month before the Federal Administrative Court if they don't want their details to be shared with the Indian government, which recently passed the "Black Money Bill" to deal with Indian tax offenders with money stashed abroad.
Swiss banking secrecy has long been used by some of India's wealthy to circumvent paying high taxes at home. But having money in a Swiss bank is by itself not a crime. However, India's tax authorities typically investigate people once they have information about undeclared deposits overseas.
Syed Mohamed Masood is the chairman of the Mumbai-based City Limouzine, and is the prime accused in a money-laundering scam being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate. Sneh Lata Sawhney is married to Bhushan Lal Sawhney, the managing director of Sawhney Tyres. His son Praveen Sawhney was one of the persons named by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during his India Against Corruption days as owner of an HSBC Geneva bank account. His wife Sangita Sawhney has also been named by the Swiss authorities.
Gurjit Singh Kochar has business interests in the United Arab Emirates and is married to the daughter of Ponty Chadha, the late founder of the Wave Group, with interests in real estate, alcohol, multiplexes and entertainment. India's IT department had conducted raids at his residence in the past.
Swiss tax authorities have only made those names public which are already wanted in tax probes at their home countries, as they had received formal requests from tax authorities in these countries.
The Indian government has been pushing the Swiss authorities for a long time to share information on the suspected tax evaders, while Switzerland has shared some details in cases where India has been able to provide some independent evidence of suspected tax evasion by Indian clients of Swiss banks.
Repatriation of black money stashed overseas was one of the key promises on which Narendra Modi rode to power. He has recently faced criticism, notably from one-time BJP member and lawyer Ram Jethmalani, that the government has done little on this account.
"We have made the request to Switzerland and we have asked them to expedite the process of confirmation of details that we have sought," finance minister Arun Jaitley said after meeting Swiss Economic Affairs Minister Johann N Schneider-Ammann earlier this month.
Ammann indicated at the time that Switzerland would be happy to share information with India on this. "The discussion with the minister was very constructive in a partnership mood.... What we discussed was that Switzerland government took a decision to start a Parliamentary process to qualify the basis for the support to solve these issues. Switzerland is prepared to follow the OECD regulations as we were in the past," Ammann said at the time.
As per a report in the 'Sonntagszeitung' weekly, the Swiss authorities have been "inundated with requests for assistance" and the nations that wanted to know details about their suspected tax-dodging citizens included "France, Germany, Russia, India and half a dozen other countries".
"Now, the Authority will publish the names of those affected in the Federal Gazette, which is available to everyone on the internet," it said, while adding that those being named may include "well-known personalities".
Earlier this year, it was revealed that over 1,000 Indian HSBC account holders had Swiss bank accounts and India was ranked 16 among these countries which had large dollar amounts in these holdings.
Committing full support to India's fight against the black money menace, Switzerland last week had said its Parliament would soon consider changes in laws to look into the possibility of sharing information in cases being probed on the basis of stolen data of Swiss bank accounts.
(with PTI inputs)