No claimants have come forward for about a dozen dormant Swiss bank accounts linked to Indians, leaving the funds lying in these accounts at the risk of getting transferred to the Switzerland government.
The Swiss government began making details of dormant accounts public in 2015 to allow their claimants submit necessary proof to get access to those funds, which included at least 10 accounts linked to Indians.
These included some accounts linked to Indian residents and nationals from the British rule era, but ironically not a single dormant account linked to an Indian has been successfully claimed in the last six years, as per the records available with the Swiss authorities.
The claim period for some of these accounts would expire next month, while a few others can still be claimed till the end of 2020.
Incidentally, some of the accounts linked to Pakistan residents have have been claimed since then, as is the case with several other accounts linked to residents from other countries including Switzerland itself.
The list included close to 2,600 dormant accounts when it was first made public in December 2015, which had around 45 million Swiss francs (over Rs 300 crore) lying unclaimed since at least 1955. There were also nearly 80 safety unclaimed deposit boxes when the list was first made public for claims from the real owners or their heirs.
More accounts are being added every year since then after they become dormant under the Swiss banking laws and the list now includes nearly 3,500 accounts.
While Swiss bank accounts have been a matter of heated political debate for many years in India due to suspicion that they were being used to hoard alleged black money, it has also been suspected that people linked to the erstwhile princely states had stashed some funds in banks in Switzerland.
Under global pressure over recent years, Switzerland has opened its banking system for regulatory scrutiny from abroad and it has also entered into pacts for automatic exchange of information on financial matters with a large number of countries, including India.
The first batch of details about accounts held by Indians in Switzerland-based financial institutions was given to India recently under this automatic information exchange information and the next such exercise would take place in September 2020.
In the meantime, the claims for dormant accounts are being managed by the Swiss Banking Ombudsman under cooperation from the Swiss Bankers Association.
As per the details available with the ombudsman, the dormant accounts linked to Indians that are waiting for their claimants include those included to at least two persons from the erstwhile Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), one from Dehradun, two from erstwhile Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and also some Indian settled in France and the UK.
The claim period for two such accounts — which are in the names of Leila Talukdar and Prmatha N Talukdar — would end next month on November 15, while the assets can be claimed till December this year for accounts in the names of Chandralata Pranlal Patel, Mohan Lal and Kishore Lall.
In case of two Bombay-residents — Rosmarie Bernet and Pierre Vachek — the claim period would expire next year in December 2020, while similar is the case for the account of Chandra Bahadur Singh from Dehradun and Yogesch Prabhudas Suchah, whose last recorded residence was in London.
Under the Swiss laws, a bank account is declared dormant after there is no customer contact for 60 years ago and details are made public for inviting claims for all such accounts having at least 500 Swiss francs or assets of unknown value.
These assets will be liquidated and transferred to the Swiss federal government if no beneficiary has submitted a justified request within a given time-frame and the same procedure applies to safe deposit boxes with a value of more than CHF 500 or unknown value.
Generally, the deadline for submitting requests is one year from the date of such dormant accounts being made public, but a larger time-frame of five years has been given for accounts that had the last customer contact in 1954 or earlier.
The claims can be submitted by the original account owner as also by his or her legal heir.
If no requests is received within the deadline, or if the bank finds the claims unjustified, the bank needs to hand over the assets to the Federal Finance Administration of Switzerland, thus making all rights of former customers null and void.