Indians may have much more than USD 2.5 bn in Swiss banks

Geneva: It`s official now — Indians hold about USD 2.5 billion (over Rs 11,000 crore) in Swiss banks, but this figure of Switzerland`s central bank may be a gross understatement of the total wealth directly and indirectly held there by entities from India.

The ever-growing judicial scrutiny and political outcry over alleged stashing of black money in Swiss banks also seems to be forcing Indian entities to move their monies to other safe havens like the Middle East, Singapore and Mauritius.

Some half a billion dollars have been moved out in the last three years, according to the central bank`s figures.

In the first-ever disclosure of money held in various Swiss banks by Indians, Swiss National Bank (SNB) has said the quantum of such deposits stood at 1.945 billion Swiss francs (about USD 2.5 billion) at the end of 2010.

Giving a break-up of this amount, Walter Meier, the spokesperson for the SNB President, said this included about USD 2.1 billion dollars in the form of savings and deposits by Indian individuals, financial institutions and corporates.

The remaining about USD 400 million is of fiduciaries largely operating for private individuals from India.

Meier, however, said the bank had no further information when asked about the identity of these funds.

He further said that two of the largest Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, account for a vast majority of the deposits of entities from India.

Out of the 1.66 billion Swiss francs (USD 2.1 billion) held by Indian individuals and institutions at the end of 2010, the two banks accounted for 1.02 Swiss francs (USD 1.5 billion) and the remaining 636 Swiss francs (USD 775 million) are held in Swiss cantonal banks and private banks, he added.

Experts say that the fiduciaries are essentially wealth fund managers who hold the money of Indian private holders and families in the so-called numbered accounts.

A private banker, on condition of anonymity, said that the actual deposits by Indians could be as high as USD 15-20 billion, but also rubbished the figure of USD 1.5 trillion that has been reported from time to time.

"I would argue that both the Swiss central bank`s estimate of USD 2.5 billion as deposits of Indians, as well as the Indian media stories of USD 1.5 trillion of Indian private deposits, are incorrect and somewhat outrageous," he said.

"From my involvement with banks, I would place the Indian deposits anywhere between USD 15-20 billion," the banker said.

He also said there was a "perceptible flight of funds" of Indian holders from Swiss banks to banks in Singapore and Dubai, which are now the two main centres for Indian funds from undeclared sources.

As per SNB`s figures also, the Indian deposits in Swiss banks have come down by USD 500 million (about Rs 2,250 crore) in the past three years.

SNB figures show that the total money deposited by Indians, both individuals and companies, in Switzerland-based banks stood at USD 2.5 billion at the end of 2010, down from about USD 2.7 billion in 2009 and USD 3 billion in 2008.

While the bank did not reveal the reasons behind the flight of money from these accounts, officials at regulatory agencies in India fear that Indians might be moving their funds to safer locations like Mauritius, Dubai and other places in the Middle East region.

There have also been talks of Singapore being one such location where money is being moved from Swiss banks.