Singapore says will adopt OECD pact to tackle tax cheats by 2018

SINGAPORE - Singapore will implement a global agreement on swapping tax information, aimed at ending offshore tax evasion, by 2018, provided certain conditions are met, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

Singapore would adopt the standard drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that will require countries to automatically share taxpayers'financial information as along as rival wealth management centres do the same.

"There must be a level playing field among all major financial centres, including Hong Kong, Dubai, Switzerland and Luxembourg, to minimise regulatory arbitrage," he said in a written response to a parliamentary question.

Last week, finance ministers and tax chiefs from 51 countries, including Luxembourg, signed up to be "early adopters" of the new OECD standard.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates were not among the signatories, although they have all signalled their intent to adopt the pact.

A push by governments to clamp down on tax evasion following the 2008 financial crisis has led to increased pressure on wealth management centres like Switzerland and Singapore to ease up on their bank secrecy rules.

Singapore, where asset managers oversaw more than S$1.8 trillion at the end of 2013, brought in new rules last year to make tax evasion a criminal offence under its money laundering rules and has signed up to earlier OECD standards on tax transparency.

Tharman also said Singapore would only agree to exchange information with countries that can ensure the confidentiality of the data they provide and offer reciprocity.

"These conditions are necessary to make sure that we continue to respect legitimate expectations for taxpayer confidentiality," he said.