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Swiss to go after domestic tax cheats
Swiss Federal Chancellery (File)

Swiss to go after domestic tax cheats

Published: 24 Feb 2012 11:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Feb 2012 09:40 GMT+01:00

The Federal Council is seeking to put tax evasion on a par with tax fraud so that both offences become criminal in Switzerland.

The Finance Minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, wants to crack down on intentional tax evasion committed by Swiss citizens, newspaper Tribune de Genève reported.

Currently there exists in Swiss law a distinction between tax evasion, which is not a criminal offence, and tax fraud, which is.

Many acts that would incur criminal penalties for tax evasion elsewhere in the world are treated only as civil affairs in Switzerland. These include deliberately misreporting income on a tax return.

As a result, Switzerland has been traditionally considered lenient on tax cheats.

This may all now change. If it does, then Swiss law may be brought into line with international standards as to what constitutes a criminal offence in the event of non-payment of tax.

“In Switzerland, a tax offence is considered a trifle while it is a crime in the United States,” Jean-Christophe Schwaab of the Social Democratic Party told the newspaper. “Attitudes must change.”

Changes to the current law would enable Switzerland to focus its attention not only on foreigners hiding their money in Swiss banks, but also on the Swiss.

As is the case with foreign accounts, the proposed law would not allow investigators to go on fishing expeditions, but would require them to have clear evidence of a crime being committed.

Left-wing politicians are pleased by the idea of clamping down on those hiding taxes from the state. Didier Berberat of the Social Democratic party points out that it is really only those with independent money that are in a position to hide money from the taxman.

“Employees are much less able to deduct money,” he told the Tribune de Genève.

The implications for the international community could also be interesting should the scope of the law be extended in Switzerland.

Currently, Switzerland will only give mutual assistance to foreign countries that can show that a crime has been committed according to Swiss standards .

This means that in many instances where countries have provided evidence that their nationals are guilty of tax evasion, Switzerland has refused to assist because it does not consider the activity sufficiently serious.

Should tax evasion become criminal in Switzerland, the number of cases in which Switzerland would agree to provide assistance may also rise.

Lyssandra Sears (news@thelocal.ch)

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