Britain and Switzerland launch talks on Swiss bank accounts

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Britain and Switzerland have agreed to start talks over thousands of Swiss bank accounts held by Britons, the Treasury said Tuesday, in a move which could see holders pay billions of pounds more in tax.

A spokesman said Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and his Swiss counterpart Hans-Rudolf Merz had agreed on Monday to begin discussions.

"The aim is that UK residents with Swiss bank accounts pay tax on the interest they earn," a Treasury spokesman said.

Account holders could be asked to pay tax going back a number of years and the payments may be "grabbed" directly from the accounts.

The agreement will focus on a greater exchange of tax information between the two countries.

"Swiss authorities will increase the amount of information they give the taxman when asked for information on accounts held by UK taxpayers," the spokesman added.

Switzerland and its secretive banking sector have been forced into action by tougher international action against tax havens.

The Financial Times, which cited government officials, reported on Tuesday that the talks concerned an estimated 125 billion pounds (198 billion dollars, 143 billion euros) held by British investors in Swiss accounts.

Britain initially asked Switzerland to hand over information on the account holders but Swiss authorities refused, citing banking secrecy.

The deal with Britain is believed to be similar to an earlier Swiss accord with Germany.

© 2010 AFP

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