Spain probing holders of 3,000 Swiss accounts: government

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Spanish tax authorities are investigating the holders of about 3,000 secret bank accounts in Switzerland over possible unpaid taxes, Finance Minister Elena Salgado said on Thursday.

She said the treasury had sent all the account owners demands to declare the origin of the funds, on which they will be asked to pay tax and penalties as necessary.

"They know that the fight against fraud is becoming more intense," she told Spanish public television.

She declined to indicate the amount of money involved, but the business daily Expansion said the accounts, held by many of Spain's wealthiest people, could hold a total of around 6.0 billion euros (7.4 billion dollars).

It said Spain received the details of the accounts from French authorities.

In January 2009, French authorities seized customer data stolen from the Geneva branch of banking giant HSBC by a former employees.

Salgado said Spain has recovered some 35 billion euros from tax cheats in recent years.

"We are stepping up our efforts" against tax fraud, she said.

The move comes as Spain's Socialist government is pushing ahead with tough austerity measures to slash its massive public deficit.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last month that he planned a new tax on the richest people in the country.

But the government has ruled out declaring a "tax amnesty" to boost state coffers, as was approved in Italy this month and which allows repatriation of funds without explaining how they were earned.

Switzerland's neighbours and the world's leading economies have forced the country to offer concessions on banking secrecy over the past year, in an international clampdown on tax evasion.

The Swiss government has vowed to find ways to prevent foreigners from hiding undeclared funds in the country's banks.

© 2010 AFP

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