The Swiss finance minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, has received a letter from her Indian counterpart complaining about an alleged lack of cooperation over funds stashed by Indian citizens in Switzerland’s banks.
A finance ministry spokesman confirmed to the Sonntagszeitung newspaper that the letter had arrived and that the Indian finance minister would get a reply “soon”.
Palaniappan Chidambaram wrote to Widmer-Schlumpf on March 13, stating that Switzerland had failed to provide administrative assistance in an investigation into suspected tax evasion.
According to the Sonntagszeitung, the Indians are believed to be looking at 782 names culled from a list of HSBC clients provided to foreign authorities by former bank employee Hervé Falciani.
The Indians have been frustrated by the perceived lack of cooperation, especially after Widmer-Schlumpf rebuffed their request last year. The finance minister stuck to her guns in January, stating that assistance could not be provided on the basis of stolen data.
"Switzerland's refusal to provide information to India and other countries on the grounds that the source of the information requested is based on 'stolen data' means that, in practice, Switzerland still believes in bank secrecy and is therefore not in tune with the modern era," Chidambaram wrote in the letter, whose contents were released to the Indian media a few days ago.
The Indian finance minister threatened to take his complaints to the G20, whose leaders declared in 2009 that the "era of bank secrecy is over."
Given that the G20 has accepted that that sanctions can be implemented to protect public finances and financial systems, Chidambaram warned that if information was to be denied to India under Double Taxation Avoidance Convention with Switzerland, “the Government of India will be constrained to take a position in the global forum."
The letter’s contents were revealed as India readies itself for general elections in May.
swissinfo.ch and agencies