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Dawn Primarolo Urges Swiss To Lift Banking Secrecy For Tax Evaders

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

14 December 2001

Speaking to the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Zurich on Wednesday, UK Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo, urged the country's private banking sector to relax banking secrecy rules in tax evasion cases, in the interest of international cooperation.

Although Ms Primarolo touched on the events of September 11th and their effect on the international banking community, and on forthcoming EU initiatives for business tax reform, tax evasion - which is a criminal offense in the UK, but not in Switzerland - was clearly the main item on the agenda.

The Paymaster General stressed the need for mutual trust and obligation between private bankers and their clients, praising the Swiss private banking sector, and drawing parallels with the British industry. However, she stated that she did not agree with the analysis of the Swiss Ambassador to London, Bruno Spinner, who argued that the OECD and EU actions against harmful tax competition were high tax countries 'resisting the outflows of capital to countries which impose only modest taxes.'

'When the crime is tax evasion,' she argued, 'it shifts the burden from the evader to the honest citizen. And the victims are all of those - all of us who - pay more as a result, or who go without the services that additional tax revenues would have funded.'

She went on to add that relatively speaking, the United Kingdom is not a high taxing country, either for corporations or individuals, and that although she respected the right of any sovereign country to tax its citizens as it likes, she expected that Switzerland would support that right on the behalf of other countries, and not assist those who wish to evade taxation in their homeland.

'I find it difficult to believe that a reputation and a business as strong as this can be balanced on the pin-point of banking secrecy,' she said of the Swiss banking industry. 'I think Swiss banking is stronger and better than that.'

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