Swiss banks want more foreign tax deals

Switzerland should try to reach more deals like those it has signed with Austria, Britain and Germany to stem tax evasion, Geneva's 80-member banking association said on Wednesday.

"Several other countries are interested" in such an arrangement, Bernard Droux, president of the Geneva Financial Center Foundation, told reporters.

Faced with mounting international criticism that its banking practices enable wide-scale tax evasion in other countries, Switzerland has agreed in several cases to ease its cherished bank secrecy, and is negotiating similar agreements with Greece and Italy.

Under the agreements, foreigners that deposit undeclared funds in Switzerland maintain their anonymity but are taxed by Bern, which in turn transfers the revenues to the account holder's country of origin.

"These accords should contribute definitively to resolving the financial problems that have disrupted relations between Switzerland and some of its closest partners," foundation official Edouard Cuende said.

The Swiss economy stood to gain from a clearer arrangement and a subsequent "diplomatic cooling-off", Cuendet added, pointing out that Swiss businesses earned earned about half their profits abroad.

Switzerland's tax deals take effect with Austria and Britain next year, but German lawmakers have yet to ratify the deal between Bern and Berlin, which would see German citizens with assets parked in Swiss banks pay a tax rate of 26.4 per cent on their holdings.

According to German media, between €130 and 180 billion ($170-235 billion) in German assets are hidden in Switzerland.

Even if the German deal fell through, "Switzerland should continue talks with other European states who have already shown an interest," Cuende said.

Droux suggested that France, which has so far refused to discuss a deal on undeclared French funds in Switzerland, would be well-served to think again.

"As our Anglo-Saxon friends say, 'Money talks'," said Droux, who is also managing partner of private bank Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch.

Switzerland manages an estimated 35 percent of global assets, according to Geneva private bank Pictet, the equivalent of $3.0 trillion.

Geneva-based banks manage 40 percent of the total, it said.

The sector employs 34,000 people in the canton which houses 140 banks — around 60 of which are foreign-owned — according to the Geneva Financial Center Foundation.

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