Austria says reached Swiss tax deal in principle

VIENNA, April 12 Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:56am EDT

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VIENNA, April 12 (Reuters) - Austria said on Thursday it had agreed "in principle" to a deal with Switzerland that will claw back taxes on wealth its citizens have stashed in secret Swiss accounts.

It hopes its finance minister will be able to sign it formally on Friday.

"I plan to fly to Berne on Friday to sign the agreement with my Swiss colleague," Finance Minister Maria Fekter said in an interview with newspaper Oesterreich.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said the pact was not complete but agreed to in principle.

Austria is rushing to clinch a deal with Switzerland that could net the country a 1 billion euro ($1.31 billion) tax windfall by cracking down on alleged tax cheats and dodgers, money it needs to help balance the budget by 2016.

Vienna estimates there are some 12 billion to 20 billion euros in undeclared Austrian funds in accounts in neighbouring Switzerland. Securing a deal by the end of the week would be a coup for Fekter, who wants the tax money to start flowing by 2013.

A spokesman for the Swiss government was not immediately available for comment.

Switzerland has already struck deals with Britain and Germany to claw back taxes from nationals using Swiss banking secrecy to hide savings from the taxman.

The withholding tax agreements have led to behind-the-scenes debate among Swiss private bankers, some of whom question whether the pacts still make financial sense for Switzerland after Germany and Britain extracted additional concessions to original deals reached last year.

On Thursday, the head of Switzerland's banking lobby said that group would not support more concessions in future Swiss deals.

"We see the German and British amendments as acceptable, but these are the last concessions we are willing to make. Our opinion is not to go any further," Swiss banking lobby head Claude-Alain Margelisch told a group of journalists. ($1 = 0.7622 euros) (Reporting by Angelika Gruber, writing by Caroline Copley. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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