Switzerland on Wednesday said it was willing to cooperate with India over the black money issue if the latter provides prima facie evidence of illegality, but will not proceed in the matter on the basis of stolen data.
"We have decided that we cannot work with stolen data. If somebody has obtained data improperly or illegally, we cannot honour those claims. We can only work when there is true investigation through the Indian tax authorities and the Enforcement Directorate, where they have clear prima facie evidence that there has been tax fraud", Switzerland's Ambassador to India Linus von Castelmur told PTI in Mumbai this evening.
"We cannot enter into discussions on illegal data. Once there is independent investigation, we will answer them (Indian officials) and fully cooperate with them", he said.
Reiterating that Bern understands and appreciates New Delhi's concern over black money stashed abroad by Indians, part of it allegedly in Swiss banks, he said a clear thinking was needed on the issue.
"We need clear understanding on the issue. I think one part of the issue is dealing with the past and Switzerland was a destination for several decades where money flowed in from different sources and that was not always a tax money. Going forward if Indians, Germans or Americans deposit money into any Swiss bank, then the Swiss tax authorities would inform their respective counterparts", he said and maintained what happened in the past cannot be undone.
Dealing with the past is difficult because what happened over past 50 years cannot be undone. Stating that Switzerland extends full cooperation to India on the basis of the double taxation avoidance agreement signed in 2011, the envoy said you cannot say you would like to have all the names of Indian account holders in Swiss banks.
That is not possible. Black money was a key issue for the BJP in run up to the April-May Lok Sabha elections. After assuming power in May-end the Narendra Modi Government, following a Supreme Court order, appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the issue of illegal wealth kept in foreign banks.
Last month, the apex court asked the Government to reveal the names of foreign bank account holders and submit the list to it.
On December 3, the SC asked the Centre to ensure the ongoing income tax probe for suspected black money concerning 627 people who are alleged to have accounts in HSBC Bank Geneva, do not get time barred and be completed by next March.
The Centre on October 29 had given to the apex court a list of 627 Indians who have accounts in HSBC Bank, Geneva, in which tax probe for suspected black money has to be completed by March next.
Commenting on the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries, Castelmur said a lot of progress has been made and he is hopeful of signing the pact soon.
Both the countries are negotiating FTA since 2007.
The trade volume between the two countries is on the upswing. From April 2000 to June 2014, Switzerland invested approximately $2.85 billion in India, thus becoming the 10th largest investor here.
As a large part of foreign direct investment in India is routed through other countries, the actual Swiss investment in India is much higher.
The total Swiss direct investment inflow into India is estimated to be above $7 billion till June 2014.
More than 200 Swiss companies have a presence in India through their subsidiaries and joint ventures.
These include Nestle, Clariant Chemicals and Novartis.
Currently, around 120 Indian firms have established presence in the European country.
"Many Indian companies carry out business development client servicing and trading activities. Also, the focus on leveraging Switzerland's strengths in R&D is steadily gaining interest", Castelmur said.
India also remains an important emerging market for Swiss Tourism.
Indian tourists spent 4,67,967 overnights in the scenic country during 2013.
Meanwhile, business tycoon and Wipro Chairman Azim Premji on Wednesday received the Swiss Ambassador's Award 2014 for inspirational and socially responsible leadership.
Earlier recipients of the award include filmmaker Yash Chopra (2010), industrialist Ratan Tata (2011), Glenn Saldhana, CMD of Glenmark Pharma (2012) and R V Kanoria, CMD of Kanoria Chemicals (2013).