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Switzerland Looks to Finalize Tax Evasion Process

Switzerland's finance minister told a Swiss newspaper that the country planned to adopt a much more friendly position in regards to sharing bank client data with foreign tax authorities much more quickly than originally thought and cannot hold back until all other countries have introduced the practice.

Forty-two countries have set an agenda to automatically share information on taxpayers' offshore bank and brokerage accounts with foreign tax authorities according to standards drafted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in an attempt to reduce global tax evasion. While the Swiss government has made it clear that it intends to comply with foreign tax authorities, it will not take a position until the standard becomes a global norm.

According to Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, OECD's completion of the draft agreement last week means that Switzerland must race to complete the process.

"We certainly can't say that we're now just going to wait until everyone has introduced an automatic information exchange - that would be the wrong path to take," Widmer-Schlumpf said.

When asked if this meant that Switzerland would hurry to make the exchange of information automatic, Widmer-Schlumpf said, "That is certainly the case."

"Who would have thought a year ago that today we would have the parameters of an OECD standard? Everything has happened a lot faster than we thought it would. That means we have to position ourselves quickly, and in relation to the European Union, as well," she added.

Following the declaration of a global standard, Switzerland's conditions on cooperating with an automatic exchange will be submitted to parliament in 2015, Widmer-Schlumpf said.

This also means that the timeframe Switzerland has to negotiate with the EU on issues of market access and existing assets has now become much smaller. Swiss banks are under growing pressure by countries like the United States and Germany to disclose client information held by their citizens who might hope to avoid taxation.

According to the OECD's blueprint, banks would be required to report residents' account balances to their government. That information would then be readily available to any other government that had signed the agreement.

Source: "Switzerland to speed up measures against tax evasion," EurActiv.com, February 20th, 2014

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