NEW DELHI: In a judgement likely to have far-reaching consequences, the Federal Supreme Court, Switzerland’s highest court, in an order on 29 April, has allowed the Swiss Finance Ministry to share the details of bank accounts maintained by Indian industrialist Anil Ambani, his wife Tina and his two children in two Swiss banks, with Ministry of Finance, Government of India, while dismissing the appeal made by Ambani to stop the same being shared with the Indian government. The judgement of the Federal Supreme Court came on a request made by Ministry of Finance, Government of India, to Swiss authorities on 5 February 2019 seeking bank details of Anil Ambani and his family members.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to Frederic Serra, the lawyer of the Anil Ambani family, who represented them in the Swiss court, for a response on the development, but none was received till the time the story went to press. The decision of the Federal Supreme Court, a copy of which is available with The Sunday Guardian, has been divided into five sections, and was delivered by Judge Florence Aubry Girardin, while hearing an appeal filed by Anil Ambani and his wife and children against the judgement of the lower Federal Administrative Court number, which, in its judgement delivered on 31 March 2021, had allowed the Federal Tax Administration, Switzerland to act on the request sent by the Foreign Tax and Research Division, Ministry of Finance, Government of India on 5 February 2019 seeking “administrative assistance” regarding Ambani’s bank details.
In its request, the Indian authorities had sought details of Ambani’s bank accounts from the period of 1 April 2011 to 30 September 2018, while stating that the “person concerned would have financial interests in several offshore structures” and the “essence of the request was to obtain information about bank accounts and entities owned directly or indirectly by them”. Acting on India’s request, in four separate final decisions of 17 October 2019, the Federal Tax Administration granted administrative assistance to the requesting authority (India) and decided to share the required information concerning the four individuals that was sought by the Indian authorities.
However, the Ambanis contested this decision of the Swiss authorities. On 17 October 2019, they moved the Federal Administrative Court. However, their appeal not to allow the Swiss authorities to share their bank details with the Indian authorities was rejected by Judge Raphael Gani of Federal Administrative Court in a 19-page order. The judge also imposed a cost of 12,500 Swiss francs on the Ambanis. Aggrieved by this order, the Ambanis approached the highest court of Switzerland.
This news was first broken by Switzerland based media, “Gotham City” on 12 May 2021. “Gotham City” focuses on judicial stories and is edited by investigative journalists Marie Maurisse and Francois Pilet. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Pilet said that while the judgement does not mention the name of the Ambanis—simply referring to them as “A, B, C and D”—as an accredited court journalist, he is allowed to see the names of the parties in the court documents that are deposited in the clerk’s office. Pilet told The Sunday Guardian that the four names mentioned in the judgement of the Federal Court are that of Anil Dhirubhai Ambani, Tina Anil Ambani, Jai Anmol Anil Ambani, and Jai Anshul Anil Ambani.
While hearing the matter, the Swiss Federal Court dealt with—among other legal issues raised by Ambani’s lawyer—matters such as whether it is sufficient for the requesting authority (India) to allege that it is in possession of information, without providing a copy of the relevant documents, even though the said information would prove to be false later. The judge, while agreeing with Indian and Swiss authorities, stated, “As the executing authority for international administrative assistance in tax matters, the Federal Administration which receives a request for assistance must verify that the request meets the conditions for assistance. This does not mean that it must ask the requesting State to provide all the documents in support of its allegations. In the absence of any specific provision, the question depends on the good faith of the requesting State, the scope of which has been defined by case law. Thus, good faith is presumed and in principle requires the requested State to rely on the information provided to it by the requesting authority, the presumption being able, however, to be lifted in the event of serious doubt.”
The court while dismissing the appeals by Ambanis, charged a legal costs of Swiss 3,000 francs on them.