ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has not requested for negotiations on exchange of information for restitution of any ill-gotten money presumably stashed in Swiss banks, said Swiss Ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc George on Monday.
The statement from the Swiss ambassador follows claims by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar that talks would be held with Swiss authorities in August to bring back US$200 billion to Pakistan from banks in Switzerland.
However, George, while speaking to a group of journalists on Monday, clarified that the Pak-Switzerland talks kicking off tomorrow (Tuesday) in Bern, Switzerland would be restricted to re-negotiating the double tax avoidance treaty, not information on exchange.
George moved to dispel the impression created by numerous statements given by Pakistani politicians, including Dar, regarding the bringing back of ill-gotten money.
“The statements made by the politicians and articles in newspapers suggested that there were lot of expectations from upcoming talks between Pakistan and Switzerland for Avoidance of Double Taxation,” said George, while advising people to adjust their expectations.
A two-member Pakistani delegation from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has already reached Switzerland for the talks.
“For us it will be just a technical meeting and the figures quoted and the related issues will not be discussed during three-day talks,” said George.
The ambassador was also clueless when it came to the $200 billion figure being quoted by various politicians. “We do not know where this figure came from or what the source is,” he added.
He said avoidance of double taxation treaty and convention on exchange of information were two different legal instruments and people in Pakistan were intermingling the two. “The issue of exchange of information on illegal assets was not on the meeting’s agenda; as to my knowledge, Pakistan did not place any request,” he added.
Earlier, Finance Minister Dar had claimed that the talks would be held with Swiss authorities in August to bring back $200 billion to Pakistan from banks in Switzerland. He, however, said that there were no firm estimates of the amount and the money could be far less than this.
But George said the purpose of the meeting was to adapt modern convention for better coordination of taxing rights to the present policies of Pakistan and Switzerland in a bid to promote mutual trade and investment.
George said Pakistan had requested to renegotiate the treaty in November last year.
He said there was a perception in Pakistan that the avoidance of double taxation treaty would provide the base for bringing back asset deposit in the Swiss banks. George maintained that for that purpose the adaptation of current international standard in respect of the exchange of information provided tax authorities of both the countries with a legal basis for an exchange of information for tax purposes on request.
He clarified that the convention for avoidance of double taxation does not generally include a legal basis for the restitution of assets originating from illegal activities. He said Pakistan and Switzerland had in May 2005 signed an agreement for sharing of confiscated assets and money generated from illegal activities.
He said the money received from illegal sources and stashed in Swiss banks can be restituted but for that Pakistan has to establish a case. He further said that if money was earned from legal sources but parked in Swiss banks without paying taxes to Pakistani authorities, the Swiss authorities cannot help to recover the taxes.
“The exchange of information is possible but it does not mean that Switzerland can help in tax collection”. He said after technical discussions there can be an agreement on the revised treaty, adding that if both the sides could not reach a consensus only in that case next round of talks would be held.
He said the legislation for repatriation of assets requires that the concerned funds have evidentially been acquired through illegal activities. “The simple fact that assets or income were not correctly reported to tax authorities does not itself establish a sufficient nexus between the concerned assets and illegal nature of the acquisition,” he added.