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Switzerland to publish list of dormant bank accounts


Having started making public the names of Indians and other foreign nationals with Swiss bank accounts that are under scanner, Switzerland will now publish a list of accounts that have remained unclaimed for 60 years.

The list would be published later this year by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman and would include unclaimed assets held by foreigners in their bank accounts in Switzerland, while giving their lawful beneficiaries an opportunity to submit a claim.

These accounts have remained unclaimed since 1955.

Speculation is rife there may be accounts belonging to some erstwhile kings, members of ruling families of the erstwhile princely states and other wealthy individuals from India, who could have opened Swiss bank accounts but did not transfer the ownership to their children or other persons.

However, Swiss authorities and banks are yet to make public any details about nationality of such account holders.

Without giving any specific figures or details, senior officials at some Swiss banks confirmed there are quite a few accounts belonging to Indian nationals and they could be made public along with the full list towards the end of 2015.

Some such accounts include those where ownership has been under dispute as multiple beneficiaries from India, including those claiming to be descendants of erstwhile kings, put forth their claims but could not provide any supporting evidence.

The Swiss Banking Ombudsman said the list will include accounts which had minimum balance of 500 Swiss franc and have been dormant for minimum 50 years.

An account is declared dormant in Switzerland if the bank has had no contact with the customer for 10 years.

The Ombudsman further said that a new banking law, which has come into force this year, has mandated that "assets over 500 Swiss franc that have been dormant for 50 years that is 60 years after the last contact have to be published.

"If, following this publication, no justified claims are reported, the assets must be liquidated and their net proceeds will be transferred to the Swiss Confederation.

"The platform for publication and the relevant processes are currently being defined and developed. They must be operative in 2015. We will give further information at given time," the Ombudsman said.

A spokesperson for Swiss Bankers Association, the apex body of banks based in Switzerland, said "these assets will be published by the end of this year for the first time.

"They are assets that the banks have for 60 years tried to find the beneficiaries and they have not been newly discovered," the Basel-based SBA spokesperson told PTI in reply to emailed queries in this regard.

While the SBA did not give a direct reply to a query on whether the banks or SBA would contact the Indian government in case of the owners of such accounts being from India, the spokesperson clarified that "assets without contact or dormant assets are not illegal assets."

"Those two issues (dormant accounts and illegal assets) must not be mixed! Switzerland and Swiss Banks have no interest in managing assets without contact or dormant assets, nor illegal assets," the SBA spokesperson said.

Explaining the development, the SBA spokesperson said, "Since 1995, the SBA has guidelines on the treatment of assets without contact and dormant assets held at Swiss banks.

"With an amendment (in force since this year) to the Banking law, an additional step in this procedure has been implemented. This means the annual publication of assets that have been without contact for ten years and dormant for another 50 years.

"Those assets will be published by the end of this year for the first time. They are assets that the banks have for 60 years tried to find the beneficiaries and they have not been newly discovered."

The SBA further said that the details of dormant accounts will be published on a specific platform.

"If, during the period of publication, no one claims a published asset, the assets are liquidated and transferred to the Swiss government," the SBA spokesperson said.

Switzerland has long been known for its tough banking secrecy laws, but it has been under intense pressure from India and other countries to clamp down on those suspected to be stashing alleged illicit wealth in Swiss banks.

Of late, Switzerland has begun to shed the famed banking secrecy veil and has begun making public the names of Swiss bank accounts holders about whom it has been approached by foreign countries for information.

These names are being published in Switzerland’s official gazette pursuant to information requests received by the Swiss Federal Tax Administration (FTA) from the foreign countries.

So far, the names of seven ‘Indian nationals’ have been published, while the gazette has also made public the names of five entities based in foreign locations for which the tax authorities from India have sought information.

FTA has already shared details about some of these individuals and entities with the Indian authorities.

However, these details have not been disclosed in the gazette, which mentions that the information needs to be kept secret and could be shared only with those concerned with their assessment or prosecution and only for such purposes.

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.

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.