IT is unbelievable, but true. According to the Swiss Banking Association Report 2006, Indian citizens (and they could include politicians, Ministers, ex-rulers and who-have-you) have, over the years, stashed away as much as1,456 billion dollars in numbered Swiss bank accounts. Mind you, this refers to only accounts in Swiss banks. It is well-known that there are other tax havens as in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands where, for all we know, as much if not more, money may have been deposited, to escape taxation. In fact, if we are to take that, too, into consideration, as much as 2000 billion dollars may have been stashed abroad by many of our own people-our fellow citizens – to escape Indian income tax.
What does that mean? One estimation is that even if one takes into account only the money kept in Swiss bank accounts, that would suffice to wipe out the entire foreign debt of Indian thirteen times over. By itself that is a frightening bit of statistics. One learns that with the foreign debt paid, the interest earned on the residual amount would be more than India’s Central budget! It sounds like a fairy tale but it is an abject fact. Who are these people who have secreted their monies, obviously ill-gotten-abroad? One report says that the Government of India is now under receipt of at least fifty names. So Delhi cannot claim to be entirely ignorant in these matters. What steps have been taken to get these individuals to get their hidden funds abroad back to India?
One remembers that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh recently made a commitment in this regard. No one asked him at his last press conference how far he has succeeded. And what is the nature of the steps that he has undertaken? And with what success? Appealing to one’s sense of patriotism is a poor way. That money is not clean money, it must be tainted. It must be money one obtained illegally, perhaps as bribes. Ministers, Defence Service officers, racketeers, smugglers, bureaucrats at various levels not to speak of politicians are the first suspect and one cannot possibly expect them to blurt out the truth, considering how they must have earned the money in the first place. Knowing their names can help the government to take some action. But will mere revelation of their identities by the Swiss authorities help? Is that, by itself, sufficient evidence? Would it help, one wonders, if the depositors abroad are privately told that if they repatriate their monies to be kept in government security under tight privacy, no action would be taken against them and they can enjoy their ill-gotten wealth as a reward for their cooperation? Will that work? It is extremely doubtful.
An aggressive approach would be to have the known depositors arrested and detained in prison under a life sentence but that is more easily said than done. This is a democracy. Another way to get cooperation from these unprincipled individuals is to remind them that with the kind of crisis now faced by European countries, it would be wisdom on their part to get their money out from Swiss banks and invest them in Indian enterprises-and no questions asked. The ethics of this approach may be questioned, but how else is the matter to be resolved? One can’t take the Swiss Government to task. The Swiss Government views the right to privacy as a fundamental principle that should be protected by all democratic countries. This is a bogus, and despicable, excuse. “Grounds of privacy” is no argument to harbour obvious criminals, because that is what they are. Switzerland is the largest independent state in the world to legalise what is obvious wholesale theft. It is said that Swiss law distinguised between tax evasion and tax fraud. Under pressure from the CECD and the Group of 20, the Swiss Government decided in March 2009 to abolish the distinction between the two in dealing with foreign clients. But it hasn’t helped.
It is difficult to accept the fact that one of the largest countries in the world is at the tender mercy of a petty district that is Switzerland. One possible way is for the United Nations General Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution demanding that Swiss and other self-serving countries, agree immediately to repatriate what obviously are stolen goods, or, at the very minimum, disclose the names of their foreign clients. It would seem that the Swiss Government is giving in a little. The latest report is that the Swiss banks are now offering to tax the money deposited with them by Indians and other foreigners and “immediately deliver the cash” to governments of respective countries, in lieu of providing them with the information on the offenders, on grounds of privacy. The United States apparently has been successful and the Swiss reportedly have agreed to give it access to close to 4,450 American-held bank accounts with Swiss banking. That is not saying much of much.
Actually, it is the UN that must take serious cognisance of Swiss behaviour and bring it to book. There has to be total agreement among all nations that Swiss recalcitrance in the matter of disclosing accounts of international thugs who are accountable to nobody is no longer acceptable, and will have to given up. The Swiss banks, in real terms, are bleeding India. This is worse than old-time imperialism. It is wholesale loot, smugly protected in the name of “Right to Privacy”. It is stated that if the Swiss have not been cooperative, the German Government has been. It has handed over to India the list of Indians who have stacked dollars in Swiss bank accounts.
The Opposition must demand that this list be made public. Why? According to Mr Ram Jethmalani, if all the money stowed in Swiss banks is repatriated to India “each Indian family can enjoy a share of about Rs 2.5 lakh each and India can be a tax-free country for the next thirty years”. The facts as known suggest that this is no exaggeration. The UPA government has another four years more to go. If, by then, Dr Manmohan Singh does not deliver the goods, so to speak, he would have been proved guilty of doing the greatest disservice to the country and the people. What is he afraid of? That if he undertakes the job, he would be betraying the most powerful in the land? That among those found guilty there may also be politicians of repute, or worse still bureaucrats who could damn many reputations by revealing secrets best known only to them? Tell us, Mr Prime Minister. Tell us where we stand.