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Finance minister stands up to OECD over tax

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The Swiss government has said it will no longer accept decisions by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in which it has not been involved.

This content was published on April 8, 2009 - 17:01

The statement on Wednesday was a response to the announcement last week that Switzerland had been placed on a "grey" list of countries considered to only half respect OECD criteria in tax matters.

"We will quickly ensure that Switzerland is included when the criteria are being decided," Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said on Wednesday of the OECD grey listing. Merz, who is this year's Swiss president, was speaking after a special cabinet meeting called to respond to the growing pressure on the Swiss financial centre.

Although Switzerland is a founding member of the OECD, it heard about the plans to create black and grey lists of tax offenders only after the move had already been agreed, said Merz, echoing comments previously made by other cabinet colleagues. Switzerland had not therefore been able to influence the decision.

"We will no longer accept this," he said, and spoke of the need to prevent something similar happening again.

Merz said the government wanted to know what had gone wrong and which body had been responsible for placing countries on the three original – black, grey and white – lists.

For its part, the OECD has defended its position, saying it did not want to punish countries, including Switzerland, over tax matters. Instead it wanted to help those on the grey list – the four countries that were on the black list have now been removed from it – to adapt their legislation.

IMF loan

The cabinet also said that it would lend the International Monetary Fund up to $10 billion (SFr8.71 billion) as part of an international effort to strengthen the global financial system.

The cabinet announced its loan as part of a larger package pledged by the Group of 20 world leaders who met in London earlier this month.

Switzerland was not invited to attend the meeting at which the G20 agreed to strengthen the IMF with $750 million in additional funds. Those loan resources could be used to help countries whose finances have been devastated by the world financial crisis.

Switzerland's contribution is to be granted by the Swiss National Bank and backed by government guarantee, the finance ministry said.

The credit line is contingent on parliamentary approval, it said.

swissinfo with agencies

OECD conditions

Jeffrey Owens, director of the OECD's Centre for Tax Policy and Administration on Tuesday revealed the conditions that would allow Switzerland to leave the grey list.

Switzerland must conclude as many information exchange accords as possible before the next G20 summit in November, he said. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría had previously said that 12 such accords were required to make it to the white list.

"I won't say the Switzerland will have a hard time if it does not do so," Owens told Le Temps newspaper. "But I would certainly put the month of November into my diary."

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The international tax row

Many countries have long suspected tax cheats of hiding their assets from the tax authorities behind the cloak of Swiss banking secrecy. But the financial crisis has brought the issue to boiling point.

Last October, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and French Budget Minister Eric Woerth called for Switzerland to be blacklisted as an uncooperative tax haven by the OECD.

UBS bank was forced in February to hand over details of some clients and pay a $780 million fine during a US tax evasion investigation.

The G20's grey list includes tax havens that have promised reform but not yet delivered changes.

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