Switzerland signs last rites for banking secrecy: OECD

Switzerland signs last rites for banking secrecy: OECD

PARIS - Switzerland broke the seal on its banking secrecy, until now considered virtually ironclad, by signing an international agreement on fighting tax evasion on Tuesday, the OECD said.

This marks "the end of banking secrecy" in Switzerland, the head of tax issues at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Pascal Saint-Amans, told AFP.

The inclusion of Switzerland in the agreement to exchange information among more than 60 countries will be "highly significant" in the fight against tax evasion, he said.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said Switzerland's adherence to the the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters "sends a clear and strong signal that Switzerland is part of the community of states which consider international tax co-operation as a necessity."

At the instigation of many advanced countries, the Paris-based OECD has spearheaded a clampdown on tax evasion and the concealment of illicit funds.

Swiss banking secrecy in its current form took shape before World War II, and provided the victims of Nazi persecution with a way to protect their assets.

The movement to scrap the policy in Switzerland and other well-known "tax havens" arose after the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent eurozone debt crisis.

Ordinary people with money woes, often facing higher taxes to cover the costs of the crises, were outraged by revelations of tax evasion and avoidance by corporations and wealthy individuals.

US tax authorities in particular took tough action against some Swiss banks.

At the same time, high-profile controversies arose when lists of bank accounts stashed in Switzerland were leaked to tax authorities elsewhere.

The Swiss ambassador to the OECD, Stefan Flueckiger, said the signing of the Convention confirms Switzerland's commitment to fight tax fraud and "safeguards the integrity and reputation of the country's financial centre."

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