Switzerland to publish first list of unclaimed assets in December

A picture illustration of Swiss Franc taken in central Bosnian town of Zenica on January 26, 2015.Having started making public the names of Indians and other foreigners with bank accounts that are under scanner, Switzerland will now publish in December a list of accounts that have remained unclaimed for 60 years.This would be the first time that such a list would be made public by Switzerland , where banks have long been known for keeping top-secret all details of the account holders but the veil of secrecy has begun to come off in recent years.

The list would be published by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman after compiling information from all Switzerland- based banks about the long-dormant accounts in the name of foreigners including those from India, while giving their lawful beneficiaries an opportunity to submit a claim.

These would be accounts that have remained unclaimed since 1955 and the banks have failed to re-establish contact with the respective clients. However, these may not be necessarily the accounts with illicit wealth.

Speculation is rife there may be accounts belonging to some erstwhile kings, members of ruling families of the former 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 in December 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.

According to Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), the apex body of all banks based in Switzerland, the details to be made public would include the last name, first name, date of birth, nationality and last known address of the account holder.

This would also apply to the dormant accounts belonging to companies and other legal persons without first name or date of birth. In exceptional cases, if the available information is not sufficient to legitimise a claim, the bank can publish the account or savings book number known to the customer, SBA said.

However, the name of the bank and the value of the assets would not be made public in this list that would be published in December this year, it added.

The Swiss Banking Ombudsman 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.

The SBA also said that “a public internet platform is currently being created where this information is to be published for the first time in December 2015”.

Without giving any 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, an SBA spokesperson had earlier told PTI 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 had 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.

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.

Names of several ‘Indian nationals’ have also been published in this regard, while the gazette has also made public the names of some 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.


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