276 Indians have at least $1 million in HSBC accounts in Switzerland (photo: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)
In a major embarrassment for Indian account holders in HSBC Switzerland, a trove of secret documents has been published that reveals their names and account balances. Labelled Swiss Leaks, accounts from 106,000 clients from 203 countries have been exposed with a total balance of $102 billion in 2006-07.
The thousands of pages of data leaked by whistleblower Herve Falciani in 2007 were obtained by the French newspaper Le Monde. In a joint investigation, the documents have now been passed to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and published by the Indian Express, BBC’s Panorama and more than 50 media outlets around the world.
The investigation has revealed 1,195 Indian customers, roughly double the 628 names that French authorities gave to India in 2010. The new revelation – published globally across these media outlets on Monday – is expected to significantly widen the scale and scope of the ongoing probe by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court.
Prominent Indians on the HSBC list allegedly include businessmen such as Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Anand Chand Burman, Rajan Nanda and Yashovardhan Birla, as well as politicians such as former UPA minister Preneet Kaur, former Congress MP Annu Tandon, and family members of former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane and of the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray.
According to the Indian Express, there were initially 1,688 Indian names on the list, based on nationality, place of birth, addresses and the location/issuing country for ID. After a three-month-long investigation, the newspaper has reduced this figure to 1,195 as some names were duplicates and others had moved to Pakistan after Independence.
It found that 276 Indians have at least $1 million in their HSBC accounts. Of these 85 are residing in India.
When informed about the global investigation, HSBC said: “We acknowledge that the compliance culture and standards of due diligence in HSBC’s Swiss private bank, as well as the industry in general, were significantly lower than they are today.”
The bank claimed that it had refocused this part of its business. “As a result of this repositioning, HSBC’s Swiss private bank has reduced its client base by almost 70% since 2007.”
Yet the new total balance of Rs. 25,000 crore ($4.03 billion) in accounts allegedly held by Indians is staggering. Until last month, Indian tax authorities had calculated that Rs 3,150 crore ($508 million) lying in these accounts had been brought to tax.
The pressure on the government to produce results is expected to increase with the new revelations.
“We are going all out to bring out the truth and we will do it in a time-bound manner. As far as we are concerned, there are no holy cows,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Indian Express in response to the latest figures.
The scale of the problem can be gauged from the fact that this is just the amount held in one bank in Switzerland – the mere tip of the iceberg when one considers the money that Indians have stashed in tax havens abroad.