Austria Says U.K. Harbors Money-Laundering Havens

The U.K. is helping to protect “money-laundering paradises” such as the Cayman Islands by failing to properly exercise its legal authority, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said.

Cyprus has been forced to accept transparency rules, including a ban on anonymous trusts, that should apply equally in all European Union countries, Fekter told reporters in Dublin today, urging EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta to act.

“The U.K. especially has a plethora of money-laundering paradises and tax havens in its immediate area of legal responsibility -- the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands,” Fekter said before a meeting of euro-region finance ministers. “These are all hot spots for tax avoidance and money laundering.”

Austria has resisted EU moves toward greater transparency such as an automatic exchange of information between tax authorities. While the country is ready to discuss data sharing, “these negotiations can’t be a one-way street,” Fekter said yesterday.

The Treasury in London said it will put tax evasion at the top of the agenda during Britain’s presidency of the Group of Eight nations this year. A spokesman for the Treasury said it has already set up an information exchange with France, Germany, Italy and Spain and that this week it announced measures to crack down on tax evasion in the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

“Decisive advances are being put in place in terms of exchange of information,” French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters in Dublin today. “We’re engaged in a process and it won’t stop. In the battle against tax havens, in the exchange of information.”

Fekter said today that it’s not decided yet “and also not obviously necessary” to participate in an automatic information exchange because Austria can also exchange data based on Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development standards.

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