Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OECD countries at loggerheads over tax havens

Germany's finance minister, Peer Steinbr├╝ck, has said that Switzerland, its neighbour, has refused to cooperate on tax issues and should be put on a black list of tax havens. "Switzerland should be on the blacklist and not the green list" of countries that cooperate on tax issues, he said. "If we are not careful, our social and economic systems will lose their legitimacy."

French budget minister Eric Woerth said that the OECD is working on a new list of tax havens and possible retaliation measures, which will be published by the middle of next year.

He was speaking after a meeting of ministers and representatives from 18 members OECD countries on October 21, convened by France and Germany, to discuss the problem of tax havens. Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the United States did not attend the meeting. (This looks to us like a boycott.) The countries that did attend produced a joint statement saying that they "favour action against jurisdictions whose legal and administrative frameworks facilitate tax fraud and evasion."

It also follows positive statements by the French president and prime minister, among others, attacking tax havens, noticing another important tax haven effect: their role in undermining regulation and co-operation. See here, here and here for more, and a separate (but related) analysis, which we will be developing, here.

Steinbr├╝ck said Germany could act on the tax-deductibility of expenses for companies with links to non-co-operating tax havens. He continued:

"Switzerland is only prepared to co-operate with us if there is tax evasion. But to prove this tax evasion we need the exact information Switzerland has - but it won't deliver it to us.

The list will cite those countries unwilling to cooperate with international investigators looking for companies and individuals who avoid paying taxes on their incomes by depositing their money in offshore bank accounts. France estimates it loses 30-40 billion Euros annually in direct tax losses to tax havens (and some German estimates are available here.)

Singapore and Hong Kong are also the target of European Union measures to tighten regulations governing "a wider range of products and to a greater geographical reach," Woerth said. "We're aiming at all tax havens."

The political will is building.

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