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Differences with India on making public Swiss bank account info: Swiss official

Washington: Noting that tax evasion is not a criminal offense in Switzerland, a senior Swiss official has acknowledged differences with India on what can be made public about Indians having unaccounted money parked in Swiss banks.

However, the Swiss Foreign Ministry official hoped that with the advent of the new government in India, which has made taking action against black money a priority, the differences would be resolved much quickly. Valentin Zellweger, Director and Legal Adviser, Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, at the same time asserted that there is no banking secrecy in case of illegal acts.

"There's no banking secrecy if we talk about illegal acts. So if we get a request from a prosecutor in another country, there's no banking secrecy. We have very stringent know your customer rules. So we are quick in being able to give the information," he said.

Responding to a question on the first list of names, allegedly having accounts in Swiss banks on unaccounted wealth, Zellweger said the talks with the Indian Government sofar has been on tax evasion and not any other illegal acts. "We have had long discussions with the Indian government.

But that is for tax evasion. Tax evasion used not to be a criminal offense under Swiss law. That is changing. We are now adapting to international standards," he told a Washington audience, acknowledging that this is a issue of dispute. "That is at the heart of the dispute. There is a disagreement with the Indian government and as to what exactly will have to be disclosed.

There is a new Indian government. We now hope that we will be able to resolve the case much quicker than we could do so in the past," he said. Appearing at a panel discussion on Returning Stolen Assets organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, Zellweger said this is now very much on the forefront of international news and argued that in recent years Swiss authorities have been very co-operative in repatriation of the unaccounted money.

"You take Tunisia, for example. You had a restitution of USD 27 million by Lebanon to Tunisia, what is it now, 2011 -- within three and a half years. The Swiss prosecutor general has decided to send back two-thirds of the funds we have frozen in Switzerland to Tunisia," he said. "We never had that in the past. The quickest case we had so far was Abacha, and that took us five years. We were efficient because we had an excellent cooperation with Nigeria in that case. Now, in Tunisia, we solved the case within three years," he said.

"So I am pretty confident for two reasons. First, asset recovery is now a topic on the international agenda. And second, international cooperation has hugely increased over the past two years," he said. In the run-up to Parliamentary polls, BJP had promised to bring back black money kept by Indians in overseas banks while targeting the UPA government for not taking effective action on the issue.

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