Free Press Journal

Mood in Switzerland unfavourable on stolen data information


Black Money

New Delhi: Switzerland’s envoy to India Linus von Castelmur today said there was a kind of “national resistance” in his country against giving information in cases of black money which have been sourced from ‘stolen data’.

The Swiss Ambassador said India should “sympathise” with his country when it comes to deciding on a time frame as to when would India get full information on instances of illicit funds being stashed in the European nation.

Castelmur added that the Swiss banking norms have changed over the years and he was hopeful of some development on this front.

“I think we have to see that Swiss banking has changed dramatically in the last five or ten years…now we have come clean, the Swiss banks have come clean that the problem would not arise any longer (of Swiss banking secrecy being absolute) and the government (Swiss) is also conscious that we would also have to offer solution to these kinds of problems….

“The (Swiss) Finance Minister last year in September was trying to introduce a legislation (to simplify norms on data obtained from stolen data). That was a new legislation.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t pass. There was a very strong resistance. Physiologically, I think this has to do perhaps with the feeling of Swiss legislators and MPs feelings that we are being pressured from the US and from other European countries and from emerging countries.

He said that the national mood was against giving the “giving in stolen data”.

“So, the mood was not there. Yes, we have to go forward and there was a kind of national resistance that we cannot give in stolen data there must be decency in human behaviour. We cannot give in but I think yes it is moving forward in many aspects,” the Swiss Ambassador said during an interaction with officials of the Enforcement Directorate here.
Recently, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had written a two-page letter to his Swiss counterpart threatening to drag the European nation to multilateral foras like G20 for continuing to block Indian requests in this regard.     Chidambaram had also reminded Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf of the April 2009 declaration adopted by G20 leaders stating that the “era of bank secrecy is over.”

The comments by Swiss authorities came at an event hosted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) here.

The agency had invited the Chief Negotiator for International Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties in Criminal Matters in the Federal Office of Justice of the Swiss Confederation Mario Michel Affentranger to deliver a speech to its sleuths but the Ambassador took the mike when the former was asked about his country’s stand on ‘stolen data’ sourced information on black money.

“The Minister (Swiss Finance) and the Swiss government was rebuked in by the Parliament. We have a strong Parliament and we have even more strong citizenship. In the end it is the Swiss citizen who is deciding in referenda.

“But I am rather confident that things will be moving in this sector. This is not a promise, this is not an engagement but I think we have to be realistic on Switzerland not only in criminal matters but also in administrative matters. We want to be fully cooperative. We have signed the OECD standards and all that but it takes sometime.

“Talking about taking time in India, you must be sympathetic to that because when I look sometimes to the speed, the pace of Indian judges and Tribunals I am sure you will give us another couple of months even years but politically we are working on that,” the Swiss Ambassador said.  The Swiss Ambassador said the very origin of a ‘stolen data’ based sharing of secret tax information was felt as “disturbing” in his country.

“Obviously, each country has to protect its legal order and Switzerland is doing that and we still have a kind of this position in our law that says that the so called stolen data cannot be used. I know India has not been stealing these data and they were given to Indian government by another European government but at the very beginning there was an act of robbery and obviously that is something that is disturbing,” Castelmur added.

During the interaction with ED officers on the ‘Enforcement Day’ celebrations here, Affentranger assured that Swiss banking norms are not absolute.

“I would like to contradict messages that are being shown in James Bond films or other movies that banking secrecy is absolute in Switzerland. It is wrong,” Affentranger, the top boss of the Swiss authority when it comes to dealing in international tax treaties and their implementation, said.

He, however, categorically said that Switzerland will not allow ‘Phishing queries’ in context of sharing information on cases of black money or giving away tax information on a tax evader.

“You cannot ask does Mr X has a bank account in Switzerland or you cannot ask to give bank data from year 1900-2014 about someone,” he said.

The top judicial officer of the Alpine nation said that investigators, including from India, will have to demonstrate that the case they are seeking help for has indulged in money laundering or any other criminal tax offence.

“You don’t need to give us the exact branch of the UBS bank or the exact bank account number of the person in question but you must send a summary of facts to us about the case you are referring to,” he said.

Answering a number of queries from ED sleuths, Affentranger said that Switzerland’s policy is to be fair to everyone.

“Our Constitution asks us to do things by the principle of proportionality. You cannot be too vague, then we cannot help you. We have been asked to be fair,” he said.

He also said that only legal requests will be entertained by Swiss authorities while lifting the banking secrecy clauses in a case and in those requests such a lawfully backed permission is not appended, the authorities will turn the request down.

Talking on ‘stolen data’ based requests recently made by India, Affentranger said he was an expert in criminal matters and this case was an administrative one.

“You are speaking about administrative cooperation. You are speaking now about issue between Switzerland and Indian fiscal authorities. Indian fiscal authorities have used stolen data and they have requested Switzerland and Switzerland has a problem to cooperate.

“It is an issue in administrative matters and there you know we have a problem to cooperate and it is also not a matter of criminal matters, it’s not about judicial cooperation in criminal matters,” he said without delving further on the issue.