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Zwitserland, Oostenrijk en Luxemburg sluiten akkoord over bankgeheim (en)

Met dank overgenomen van EUobserver (EUOBSERVER), gepubliceerd op maandag 9 maart 2009, 9:26.

Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland rallied together on Sunday (8 March) in a last ditch attempt to protect their banking secrecy regimes, under threat amid global efforts to tackle the economic crisis.

Ministers of the three countries - EU members except for Switzerland - met in Luxembourg to discuss how they can best keep their countries off an international blacklist of tax havens.

The list is set to be decided at a meeting of G20 countries in London next month, but the three nations are not part of the group of 20 nations.

"Debates about bank secrecy are conducted in fora to which we do not belong, like the G20 for example," said Luxembourg budget minister Luc Frieden, according to AFP news agency.

"We regret that some countries are talking about tax havens without having led debate about the criteria that define a tax haven," he said.

He added that Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg want to be "integrated" into the debate "to find ways to maintain banking secrecy, while at the same time we are open to a dialogue on how to find ways to improve collaboration on tax offences."

Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz, who is also finance minister, said: "It is the aim of the Swiss government to avoid the automatic exchange of information because that would mean giving up banking secrecy."

He noted that tax haven black lists should not be created if Switzerland and others are not part of the talks, reports Reuters news agency.

Bank secrecy to the fore

Bank secrecy has come to the fore since the onset of the economic crisis, with countries increasingly wanting information on the billions of dollars kept in banks in tax haven nations.

Switzerland, whose long-enshrined bank secrecy laws have turned the Alpine state into an international finance centre, has already given in once to external pressure.

In February, it allowed Swiss bank UBS to reveal the identity of around 300 of its US clients and paid a fine of $780 million after being accused by Washington of abetting tax fraud by US customers.

However, the pressure is continuing.

The US government also wants UBS to disclose the names of around 52,000 US customers who it claims are evading taxes and has filed a separate lawsuit on the issue.

Meanwhile, France and Germany last week said that the G20 should break off bilateral fiscal conventions with countries considered to be unco-operative tax havens.

But the bank secrecy trio's stance has some support from within the EU. Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenbeg said Switzerland's banking secrecy should not be broken at all costs.

"Certainly a couple of million euros escape one tax coffer or the other," he said, according to Switzerland's NZZ am Sontag

"But the country's independence and the tradition of the autonomous and neutral Switzerland are to be valued higher. Why do you have to break that at all costs?" he said. The Czech Republic currently holdis the EU's rotating presidency.

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