Pranab denies UPA going slow on unearthing Swiss Bank accounts

April 22nd, 2009 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Kolkata, April 22 (IANS) Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday denied that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was going slow in taking action to unearth illegal money of Indian citizens kept in secret Swiss Bank accounts.
Addressing a press conference here, Mukherjee asked why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Aliance (NDA) had not taken steps in this regard when it was in power.

“Reports that the government of India is going slow in taking action against illegal money of Indian citizens stashed away in secret Swiss Bank accounts and other tax havens are completely incorrect and are denied,” Mukherjee said.

He added that the UPA government was fully seized of the matter and had taken all necessary steps in this regard.

The minister’s statement was in response to BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani’s repeated allegations that the central government has not taken any steps to unearth the illegal money.

Mukherjee said that contrary to some reports, there was no estimate by any authority abroad or even the Swiss Banking Association about the amount of money held by Indians in such accounts.

Regarding Advani’s statement that his party would enact a law for unearthing of Indians’ Swiss bank accounts if voted to power, Mukherjee asked: “What prevented them from notifying the act when they were in office?”

In the G20 summit in London, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had specifically raised the issue of sharing information relating to tax compliance and bringing tax havens and non-cooperating undertakings under close scrutiny.

“This initiative has been accepted by G20 leaders. There is an open call to adhere to international standards including exchange of information,” Mukherjee said.

India has also fully accepted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards, which are reflected in several bilateral tax treaties signed by the government, he said.

The minister claimed that the government has consistently put pressure on Switzerland on sharing information on tax related matters despite the initial refusal by Swiss authorities to do so.

“Switzerland has now announced its intention to conform to OECD standards,” Mukherjee said, adding that the UPA government has already given the nod for re-negotiating the India-Swiss agreement in this regard.

“We are also seeking inclusion of enabling provision for sharing of such information with other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Mukherjee also termed as incorrect the suggestions that India was unwilling to gather information from Germany, “which has a list of Indian citizens having deposits in LGT Bank”.

He explained that the government had officially requested German authorities in February 2008 to provide information related to Indian citizens.

“After pursuing the matter for more than a year, we received information from Germany March 18. Immediate follow up action has been initiated,” he said.

However, the minister said the government was not in a position to publicly disclose the information as “Germany reiterated the secrecy obligations under the tax treaty while handing over the information”.

He said the Prevention of Money Laundering Act passed in 2002 was notified in 2005 by the UPA regime, which will set up the Financial Intelligence Unit-India (FIU-IND) in November 2004.

He said the intelligence gathered by the FIU-IND is shared with other law enforcement agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Bureau of Direct Taxes, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the state governments.

With regard to getting membership of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), he said India has been mounting pressure on FATF and other such regional bodies under it on the issue.

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