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Black money probe: Yash Birla, seven others on Swiss list for tax evasion

Black money probe: Yash Birla, seven others on Swiss list for tax evasion

Berne/New Delhi: Industrialist Yash Birla and son-in-law of late realty and liquor baron Ponty Chadha are among seven Indians with Swiss bank accounts whose names have been made public in Switzerland's official gazette with regard to ongoing tax probes against them in India.

Two Mumbai-based individuals named in the famous City Limousines scam, a Delhi-based businesswoman Ritika Sharma and two others -- Sneh Lata Sawhney and Sangita Sawhney-- are the other Indians whose names have been made public.

The names of these seven "Indian nationals" have been published in Switzerland's Federal Gazette with regard to details sought about them by the Indian authorities.

Among these, some details have already been shared by the Swiss Federal Tax Administration (FTA) with India, including about Birla and Sharma of Blessings Apparel, as per the gazette notifications.

In case of Sayed Mohamed Masood, being probed for a major ponzi scheme run from Mumbai through City Limousines, some details were shared by Swiss authorities in the past. His accounts were also frozen a few years ago following a request from the Enforcement Directorate.

Fresh details about him and about Chaud Kauser Mohamed Masood have been sought by the Indian authorities, as per the notifications published in Switzerland's official gazette.

While asking the named persons to appeal within 30 days, the notifications mention the names and date of birth of all the seven, including Gurjit Singh Kochar, who is married into the Chadha family and is said to be outside India now.

The notifications for Birla and Sharma also mention their Mumbai and Delhi addresses, respectively.

Welcoming the Swiss government's move, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said this should serve as a "sufficient indicator" to those with unaccounted wealth abroad about the action to follow.

Speaking to reporters in Ahmedabad, he said the era of tax haven has come to an end and it's no longer safe to keep the assets abroad illegally.

The Yash Birla group later said in an emailed statement that he had "no individual bank account in his name or under his control" and this position has already been communicated to the Indian tax authorities.

Repeated calls to Sharma did not elicit any response, while a family representative declined to comment on the notification issued about Kochar, who is believed to be outside India. He is facing probe by the Income Tax Department and other agencies for quite some time.

No contact details were available for comments from Sawhneys. Despite repeated attempts Masoods could not be contacted

The names being made public in this manner could include some big names, as those whose names have been published in the latest gazette includes Francisco Jose Ortiz von Bismarck. As per German media reports, he is a descendant of the first Chancellor of German empire Otto von Bismarck.

Officials said some names have been made public through the gazette notifications in the past also, but those were of the persons that banks were unable to locate.

Also, the numbers have gone up in a big way because of a quantum leap in the number of requests being received by the Swiss tax department from the foreign governments for mutual assistance procedure.

Besides, a new law has done away with the mandatory requirement of a bank customer being informed first before any sharing of information about them by the Swiss authorities.

The officials also said that the main purpose of the names being published in the gazette is providing the concerned persons an opportunity to explore legal remedies.

The Swiss FTA has asked those being named to file an appeal within 30 days before the Federal Administrative Court if they do not want their details to be shared with the Indian authorities under their 'mutual assistance' treaty.

In case of Birla and Ritika Sharma, whose details have been already shared by the Swiss authorities, the notifications also mention their addresses in India, but the information given to India has been withheld from the gazette.

No further details — other than their names and date of birth — were made public for other "Indian nationals". Similar is the case for other foreign nationals including the British, Spanish and Russians.

In case of American and Israeli citizens, their full names have been withheld and they have been identified by their initials and dates of birth.

At least 40 such 'final notices' have been published in the Swiss Federal Gazette so far this month, while more such names are expected to be published going forward.

The alleged stashing of wealth by Indians in Swiss banks has been a matter of great debate in India.

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.

While there was no reply to queries mailed to the FTA spokesperson in this regard, these names are being published in the Swiss Federal Gazette in the backdrop of the Swiss government being flooded with requests on suspected black money hoarders in Swiss banks from various countries including India.

Through these gazette notices, the Swiss FTA is also looking to give the concerned persons an opportunity to resort to legal remedies. These are the persons about whom foreign governments are requesting information.

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.

Switzerland's Economic Affairs Minister Johann Schneider Ammann during his India visit on May 15 said that the Swiss government was sensitive to the fact that the issue of black money was very important for India and needed to be resolved.

"Switzerland has decided to follow international standards, including those framed by OECD, in sharing information and providing assistance to foreign countries probing such cases, but we have to ask our Parliament to make changes in our laws," he said.

Indian Parliament has recently passed a new black money law under which those found to be stashing illicit funds in foreign locations, including Swiss banks, would face strict penal action, including up to ten years in jail and a penalty of 90 per cent of funds in addition to 30 per cent tax levy.

However, a one-time 'compliance window' will be provided before the law comes into force and this would let the persons with foreign assets to come clean by payment of 30 per cent tax and 30 per cent penalty.

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