14 Mar 2009

Swiss bank accounts not so secret any more

8:17 pm on 14 March 2009

Swiss bank accounts are set for a shake-up, with Switzerland's government agreeing to ease its strict bank secrecy rules.

By agreeing to co-operate with investigations into tax evasion on a case-by-case basis, Switzerland has bowed to pressure from the United States, France and Germany. But Swiss Banking Association president Pierre Mirabaud says it doesn't mean there are flaws in Swiss banking confidentiality.

Austria and Luxembourg will also relax strict bank secrecy in some tax evasion cases, in a response to a global crackdown on tax havens.

The three countries made the concessions ahead of a meeting starting on Friday of finance ministers from the G20 group of developed and emerging countries.

Andorra and Liechtenstein did the same on Thursday.

All were among the names of countries handed to G20 this week by the OECD, which polices a blacklist of uncooperative tax havens.

Amnesty may be sought for existing clients

Critically, Switzerland will now cooperate in cases of suspected tax evasion, at least once double taxation agreements have been renegotiated with other countries. It also said it could seek an amnesty for existing clients.

Previously, the world's biggest offshore banking centre would only co-operate with foreign authorities when they could prove outright tax fraud.