Swiss say to be removed from tax haven list

September 25, 2009

Swiss President and Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz speaks to members of the National Council during the autumn parliament session in Bern September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener (SWITZERLAND POLITICS) By Lisa Jucca and Sven Egenter
ZURICH, Sept 24 (Reuters) – Switzerland expects to be taken off the OECD’s list of tax havens after the country signed the required 12th tax deal on Thursday.

“With today’s signing of the new double taxation agreement with Qatar by President Hans-Rudolf Merz and the Prime Minister of Qatar, Switzerland has been swift to implement the OECD criteria,” the finance ministry said in a statement. “Further agreements will follow. Consequently, Switzerland will be removed from the “grey list’ of the OECD Secretariat,” it said.

G20 leaders agreed in April to name and shame offshore centres that did not cooperate on tax evasion and threatened them with sanctions.

That caused political embarrassment for Switzerland and other international offshore centres, which swiftly agreed to relax their bank secrecy rules.

The pressure was particularly high on Switzerland, the biggest offshore centre which manages one third of the world’s wealth, at a time when banking giant UBS was facing a tax fraud probe in the United States.

Fear of sanctions pushed Berne to agree for the first time it would share with foreign tax authorities certain bank data on tax evasion matter, a move the local press described at the time as a capitulation.

STEP FORWARD
The G20 is expected to take stock of progress by offshore centres at its summit on Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh.

Many offshore centres, including European Union members Austria and Luxembourg, have already been taken off the ‘grey list’ in recent weeks, putting pressure on Swiss authorities to act.

The list comprises countries that have not fully implemented global taxation standards.

Switzerland signed an 11th tax treaty with the United States on Wednesday.

The Swiss, UBS and the U.S. government settled their tax case last month, with the bank agreeing to turn over 4,450 names of clients with undeclared accounts to authorities.

The OECD already signalled on Wednesday that Switzerland will soon be taken off the grey list.

“Signing agreements is only one step in a process. What we will now be looking for is effective implementation by all countries,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, attending a G20 summit that starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday, said in a statement.

But Switzerland still faces a potential domestic headache as one of the treaties will have to be put to a popular vote in a referendum.

For the full statement of the Swiss finance ministry please click here:

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