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Swiss ministers doubt OECD ranking

GENEVA – Swiss ministers on Saturday expressed doubt on the criteria for the OECD’s classification of tax havens, which was at the centre of a crackdown announced at a Group of 20 summit this week.

Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Singapore and more than 30 other territories were placed in a second level of states that committed to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation Development’s tax cooperation norm but did not yet "substantially" implement it.

In a newspaper interview, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey welcomed the presence of a follow-up, "because we have to watch that our competitors also implement what they have promised and are subject to the same standards as we are."

"The enormous surprise comes from the first category — that of the jurisdictions which are regarded as cooperative and cleared of all suspicions," she told the daily Le Temps, suggesting that big powers were protected.

Forty jurisdictions were listed in the top ranking as having "substantially implemented" the OECD standard on exchanging tax information.

Apart from major economies, they included the British dependent territories of Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man, as well as the US Virgin Islands, which reputedly have secretive financial rules.

Media reports indicated that at least 12 tax information exchange agreements with another country are necessary to reach the top tier.

"No one has been able to explain to me so far how this figure of 12 came about. It would be childish to insist on it," Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.

Switzerland formally decided on 13 March to ease banking secrecy and fully adopt OECD tax standards.

Earlier in April the government approved talks with the United States and Japan to reinforce tax cooperation.

Several European countries are expected to follow and Merz said he hopes to develop an "excellent number" by the end of 2009.

AFP / Expatica