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Future of banking secrecy under debate

Cabinet is due to discuss the future direction of Swiss banking secrecy on Friday.

Switzerland is under pressure to ease banking secrecy laws as other alleged tax havens say they will amend their laws, and the government is expected to make some concessions.

Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz has said the government is willing to improve international cooperation to combat tax offences.

Merz said Switzerland could be affected by Liechtenstein's decision to conform to the standards set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in reporting tax offences, and said he would respond further on Friday.

Andorra also announced on Thursday that it was now willing to conform to OECD requirements. Austria's finance minister announced a day later, on Friday, that his country's banks would also begin to share more information on a case by case basis if there was "justified suspicion" of fraud.

A French newspaper reported earlier in the week that the OECD had submitted a list of "uncooperative" countries, including Switzerland, to the G20 group of the world's strongest economies.

The countries concerned – which also include Liechtenstein, Austria, Andorra, Monaco and Luxembourg – could then be placed on an official blacklist. If this happens, companies doing business with them could be subject to additional withholding taxes and stifling auditing and reporting requirements.

A G20 summit meeting is scheduled for April 2, where ministers are expected to discuss how to force alleged tax havens into being more transparent with sharing client data.

The Swiss finance ministry said an expert group had been set up last Friday to look for solutions to the dispute over bank secrecy. A spokesman said that reports of Switzerland's possible inclusion on a blacklist showed that the country did not have much time to find concrete proposals.


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