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Stones and glass houses, offshore tax haven edition

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One of the week’s more amusing stories takes us to the sun-kissed shores of the Cayman Islands, scuba diver’s paradise, magnet for hedge funds and – until very recently – world-beating tax haven.

The financial crisis has not been kind to the Caymans. Hundreds of hedge funds have collapsed and global banks have slashed jobs. As if this was not enough, President Barack Obama in the spring launched a crackdown on tax havens that forced a number of Caribbean islands, including the Caymans, to embrace greater transparency – after a fashion.

Things are so bad that the government of the Cayman Islands is facing a $82m revenue shortfall in the budget. Local officials say they need a big loan or the government risks bankruptcy.

However, the British government – which oversees the islands – last week vetoed the loan. Chris Bryant, the British Foreign Office Minister, said he would not approve any new lending until he was convinced the Caymans had their house in order. He even suggested the islands might have to introduce – horror of horrors – income taxes in order to make ends meet.

UBS settlement leaves Switzerland scarred

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UBS, Switzerland and the United States can all claim a sort of victory from the settlement on Wednesday of their tax dispute.

UBS gets to avoid a fine that — according to the Swiss justice minister — would have threatened its existence. The Americans get the details of some 4,450 accounts that they say have held up to $18 billion, on which fat taxes may be payable. And the Swiss get to draw a line under a threat to their fundamental banking secrecy.

from Margaret Doyle:

COLUMN – Swiss guard bank secrecy: Margaret Doyle

Margaret Doyle is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own

By Margaret Doyle

LONDON, July 9 (Reuters) – The Americans are on a fishing trip. The fish they are after are big: 52,000 of their fattest fellow citizens, and they have invited the Swiss to land them. Understandably, the Swiss are not keen to haul in the net and hand over the source of much of their income.

The US demand that UBS <UBSN.VX> <UBS.N> disclose the names of 52,000 American citizens suspected of tax evasion has galvanised the Swiss government into threatening to bar the bank from doing anything of the sort.

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