An official of the Swiss Bankers' Association was quoted theother day as saying that there are no figures with Swiss bankson "black money". Such statistics "simply do not exist", heemphasised. In other words, the colour of money stashed away inSwitzerland is of a uniform colour, one which, prima facie, shouldnot raise any suspicion of any sort.NO QUESTIONS ASKEDSeen from the perspective of the Swiss banks, no questions areasked about the source of the funds (if they are, no official effort ismade to verify the truth of the claims). No names are attached to theaccounts; only numbers are given. Since Swiss law protecting theidentity of bank deposits and depositors is legendary as regards itseffectiveness, from the point of view of those hailing from othercountries who do not want to keep their money in their owncountries and who do not want their tax people to know anythingabout the extent of the funds they control, there is nothing likeputting their money into Swiss banking institutions if they want tosleep well.Most of the time, secrecy means not just prudence but sheerconcealment. This is known very well by the Swiss bankingauthorities who cannot, however, go to town with the view becausethe resultant impression created about the uses Swiss bankingfacilities are put to will not cast a good light on Swiss standards ofmoral behaviour. Indeed, morality and appropriate social behaviourgo hand in hand, and it simply cannot be argued that there isnothing improper in the fact that those who break their nationallaws (no matter in what sphere) are given a red-carpet treatment bySwiss society. After all, breaking national tax laws is not quitesimilar to violating, say, a specific religious custom in one country,which may not be followed in a different national environment,although there are many who will argue that, at a general level,social norms (which form the basis of any legal framework) aresometimes so different in two social situations that they cannot beviewed in the same light.BLACK MONEY STATISTICSAll said and done, despite the view that there are no official blackmoney statistics, the fact remains that Switzerland is today - as ithas always been - a haven for those who have not met their taxobligations at home, providing protection to ill-gotten financialwealth, which is not what "honesty" is all about.The recent success of the US in getting the Swiss banking outfitUBS to divulge the names of 4,450 American citizens who haveaccounts with it - following up on the names of 250accountholders it agreed to release in February this year - merelyunderscores the fact that the skeletons stashed away in Swiss bankvaults will tumble out in a flood if the right sort of pressure isexerted on the Swiss authorities.OFFICIAL ENQUIRYClearly, the point is, if the Americans can do it, why cannot NewDelhi? As the Bofors case indicated in the 1980s and 1990s, the veryprocess of getting an official request to enquire into a bank accountaccepted by the Swiss authorities can be mired in intractableproblems, and any resourceful accountholder with an interest inopposing such an enquiry can use this stage as a first battlegroundextending almost interminably into the future.But, happily, evolution of procedures is in the air with the SwissVice-President, Doris Leuthard, saying recently in New Delhi that"if India has a tax evasion case against any of its citizens whohappens to have an account in a Swiss bank, then India will be ableto get the details of the person after applying through a setprocedure".Negotiations between the two countries are expected to begin byDecember. It remains to be seen how expeditiously the talks areconducted and results generated because the opposition to a quickand successful conclusion of the effort is likely to be formidable.RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

Related Stories:
On the black money trail
‘Rs 70 lakh cr Indian money in Swiss banks, other havens’

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 16, 2009)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.