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Swiss banking secrecy still holds

Frankfurt — Swiss banking secrecy is still the rule despite international pressure for greater transparency, Switzerland’s President and Finance Minister Hans-Rodolf Merz said Thursday in an interview.

"As far as banking secrecy itself, nothing has changed compared with the past, nothing will be eased," Merz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

"There will just be closer international collaboration," he added.

Switzerland was included by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a "grey list" of countries deemed to be uncooperative on tax havens earlier in 2009.

Also under pressure from the G20 group of advanced and emerging economies, Berne now expects to ratify tax agreements in 2009 to conform to OECD standards on information exchange, which would remove it from the list.

A total of 23 countries said they would renegotiate double taxation agreements with the Swiss Confederation.

To date, six countries have done so — Denmark, France, Mexico, Norway, the United States and a nation that was not identified by Swiss authorities.

The influential Swiss Bankers Association said Monday it had named private banker Patrick Odier as chairman. He was quoted as saying that "protecting financial privacy in terms of data protection for all bank clients will remain an important responsibility for us as Swiss bankers in future."

Switzerland has traditionally boasted of its bank secrecy rules but the worst global slump since the 1930s emphasised the need to limit risk through greater openness.

Merz told the FAZ that he was considering the interests of Swiss companies.

"We have not bowed (to international pressure). But had we dug in, sanctions against Switzerland would have followed. That would have affected jobs first and foremost," he explained.

"Major Swiss industrialists called me to stress their desire that we abandon our resistance to application of the OECD rules.

"They were justifiably worried about Switzerland’s ability to compete" in international markets, Merz said.

The Swiss president also voiced concern that other European financial centres could take advantage of his country’s decision to comply with OECD regulations.

"Following discussion in Singapore, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, I have the feeling that these countries also want to adhere to the OECD rules," he said.

"But we know a few small islands that covet the lucrative business they are going to be able to do," Merz added.

AFP / Expatica