Custom Search

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I-T forces HSBC A/c holders to provide details, surrender secrecy rights under Swiss law

This could well be a last-ditch attempt by tax authorities to finish the messy job of bringing to book individuals having undisclosed accounts with HSBC Geneva.
In the past few days, men and women whose names appear in the now-famous list of account holders with the Swiss private banking arm of the British bank have been asked by income-tax officials to sign on a two-page letter spelling out their account details and, more significantly, surrendering their rights under the Swiss secrecy law.

The individuals concerned have been told by tax officials to mail the signed letter to two in-house lawyers of the bank - David Garrido, general counsel-Switzerland, HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA, and Christine Knight-Maunder, general counsel-global private bank. The individuals have also been asked to submit a copy to the Income-Tax Department.

Till now, HSBC has refused to share the information with the Indian government without the approval of its clients. Among other things, the bank has resisted on the grounds that the data was stolen by a former employee of the bank and later handed over to the French government in return for an asylum in France.

Under the circumstances, a letter from account holders - authorising the bank to share account records - will pave the way for the Indian tax office to access transaction details and raise tax claims on undisclosed income.

Sense of Panic Among Individuals

"There is a sense of panic as many don't know how to handle the situation. Some prefer to ignore it and pay a penalty. But if the department seeks information under Section 133, ignoring it could mean trouble later," said a senior chartered account familiar with the development. Some have signed while others are trying to find ways to buy time as the tax department has to complete the assessment by mid-2014, two years since the raids were conducted.

"There are account holders who may give an incorrect signature that may not match with the one with HSBC. Also, signatures of beneficiaries of trusts with accounts in HSBC may not help the department as only trustees are empowered to give such an authorisation," said a tax lawyer.

According to sources in the tax department, those willing to give their consent to the bank may be doing it to avoid a hefty demand later. "In a particular case, a lady gave consent as she was unaware of the account that her husband, who is now dead, had opened years ago. She is willing to pay tax and settle the matter...There are similar cases," said a tax officer.

The pre-formatted letter calls for disclosure of all relevant information: account number, master number (which is a single account encompassing individuals, companies and trusts), beneficiaries and settlers of trusts, personal details such as address, date of birth and contact number. Besides, it carries the following declarations: "...I am/we are co-operating with the Income-Tax department, Government of India", "I/we hereby instruct and authorise HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA to provide me any and all account records" in the bank's "possession", and finally, "With this instruction, I/we hereby waive all protections provided under the data protection, privacy and/or bank secrecy laws of Switzerland".

Account records, in banking parlance, include documents identifying the account holder, beneficial owner and authorised persons, documents pertaining to foreign entities established or operated on behalf of the Indian taxpayer, account opening documents, correspondence between the bank and the customer or any third party in relation to the account, account statements and statements of assets.

The department's decision to seek account holders' consent is probably aimed at saving time. Invoking the information-sharing agreement between the two countries, which came into effect on Jan 1, 2012, in Switzerland and on April 1, 2012, in India, could have been a more time-consuming process. The I-T department has already launched prosecution proceedings against persons named in the list of Indian account holders with LGT Bank in Liechtenstein, a tax haven near Germany.

Source: EconomicTimes


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Desi Google | A2Z Famous Quotes | What's Cooking America | Joke Site