Switzerland May Discuss Tax-Information Exchange, Minister Says

Switzerland would be ready to discuss an automatic exchange of tax information with other countries if certain transparency conditions are met, Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters yesterday.

Switzerland favors withholding-tax arrangements for non-resident bank-account holders, rather than the European Union’s preferred automatic exchange of information model.

“We would be ready to enter into a discussion” on the automatic information-exchange “if certain conditions are met and one condition for us being able to imagine at all to have such a discussion is to disclose the beneficial owners” in all relevant cases, Widmer-Schlumpf said in Washington, where she attended an International Monetary Fund meeting.

Austria and Luxembourg earlier this month announced plans that bring them more in line with the EU’s position, leaving Switzerland increasingly isolated and clinging to its bilateral accords with the U.K. and Austria, which still shield client identities.

“Specifically, this means that there would have to be full transparency at trusts,” Widmer-Schlumpf said, adding her view was shared by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in a bilateral discussion. “If you don’t know the beneficial owner in all constructs, then all information exchanges aren’t of much use.”

Another condition for Switzerland’s approval is to agree on what types of information are to be exchanged, Widmer-Schlumpf said. While Luxembourg wants to limit the information exchange to interest income, others want an extension to all kinds of asset earnings such as dividends, she said.

“Another necessary discussion concerns reciprocity” and the U.S. in particular isn’t ready to provide the information it expects to receive from others, Widmer-Schlumpf said. “We’ve said that there has to be full reciprocity.”

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