Swiss bankers warn EU against attacks on tax evasion
The bankers particularly object to criticism by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, who last year said Switzerland should be placed on the OECD "blacklist" of countries that do not cooperate against tax evasion.
Bern -- A Swiss private bankers group said the country was ready to negotiate with the European Union to close loopholes enabling tax evasion but warned against attacks from negotiating partners.
"Concretely, vis-a-vis the EU, we are not opposed to a discussion on the elimination of gaps," Michel Derobert, who heads the Swiss Private Bankers' Association, said in a speech earlier this week.
"But it is out of the question to accept criticisms from those who attempt to make Switzerland responsible for these gaps," he added.
In particular, Derobert referred to charges by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, who last year said Switzerland should be placed on the OECD "blacklist" of countries that do not cooperate against tax evasion.
"We should obtain the recognition once and for all that Switzerland does not have a place on the blacklist of the OECD and other intergovernmental organisations," said Derobert. "We cannot negotiate on one hand with partners while being attacked by the same partners at the same time in other forums."
Switzerland has come under increasing pressure in the past months over its banking secrecy policy after a massive tax evasion probe launched by Germany over its citizens who hold bank accounts in neighbouring Liechtenstein.
Banks here are not allowed by law to turn over account information to authorities, except in criminal cases.
Instead, banks are required to levy a withholding tax on interest earned on bank deposits belonging to Swiss and EU residents so as to discourage tax cheats.
Such tax revenues arising from accounts held by people domiciled in the EU reached 653 million Swiss francs (431 million euros) in 2007.
Part of the tax income was refunded to the account holders' resident countries under an agreement reached with the European Union in 2004.
But the European Commission in November proposed tougher new measures to clamp down on tax dodgers.
The bloc's Taxation Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said the measures would not work unless non-member states like Switzerland and Liechtenstein came onboard.
Derobert said that Switzerland "should be supple and ready to renegotiate" with its European partners but stressed that the country should also remain "firm."
"Switzerland is still opposed to various information exchange systems that are incompatible with its internal judicial order," he said, defending the country's use of withholding taxes.