Swiss tax info came from banks, informers -France

August 31, 2009

PARIS, Aug 31 (Reuters) – France obtained the names of 3,000 suspected tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts from banks and unpaid informers, Budget Minister Eric Woerth said on Monday.

Woerth had revealed in a Sunday newspaper interview that France had secured the names of people suspected of holding undeclared assets worth some 3 billion euros ($4.3 billion), but had not said how the information was obtained.

He presented the list of names as a first in the battle against banking secrecy and said it would help enforce a new tax agreement signed last week by France and Switzerland, the world’s biggest offshore banking centre.

“We have two sources of information. The first is the (French) department of fiscal investigations which has been searching for several months already for lists of names,” Woerth said in an interview with France 5 television on Monday.

“We went looking ourselves for names and we have informers, who were not paid,” he said.

“Secondly, there are banks, it is true, that also spontaneously gave us names in the course of our fiscal investigations — banks that have a presence on French territory.”

Woerth declined to name any of the banks.

He said the list of names, which has not been made public, would serve as an incentive to persuade any French tax evaders to declare their assets by Dec. 31 and then pay the tax they owed as well as some penalties.

From 2010, controls would become stricter and penalties for offenders would be harsher, Woerth said, adding that he would ask all banks with a presence in France to hand over details of cross-border transactions by French residents with foreign accounts.

He also said that the list of names would serve to enforce a new tax accord signed by France and Switzerland on Thursday. Under the agreement, Switzerland agreed to share banking information upon request from France’s tax authorities, starting in January 2010. [ID:nLR262191]

“We need names because if we want to make the fiscal convention that we signed with Switzerland work … we have to give names to the Swiss authorities. Otherwise it won’t work,” Woerth said.

Under pressure from the G20, Switzerland agreed in March to relax its prized bank secrecy and share certain client data with other jurisdictions, once bilateral tax treaties were ratified.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been one of the most vocal G20 leaders in calling for an end to banking secrecy.

The deal with France is the third such agreement signed by Switzerland in its campaign to be removed from the OECD “grey list” of tax havens which have agreed to improve transparency but have not yet signed the necessary deals.

Switzerland must sign 12 such deals to get off the list.

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