* OECD gets 51 countries to agree on transparent tax data
* Evaders can no longer count on bank secrecy, minister says
* U.S. not a signatory but supports tax push, OECD says
(Adds comments on United States and Switzerland)
By Stephen Brown and Michelle Martin
BERLIN, Oct 29 Finance ministers and tax chiefs
from 51 countries signed an agreement on Wednesday to
automatically swap tax information, which Germany's finance
minister said heralded the end of tax evasion via secret bank
"Let's make a joint contribution to more transparency and
fairness in our globalised 21st century," Wolfgang Schaeuble
told a taxation conference of about 100 countries coordinated by
the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The pledge from so many countries -- Schaeuble said there
were 51 signatories from four continents, after one country
joined at the last minute -- is the result of years of OECD
efforts to facilitate tax authorities' access to bank data.
OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said the taxation deal
should "help to recover the trust the public today has lost"
during the global financial crisis and economic downturn.
"Tax evasion is not just illegal, it is immoral," Britain's
finance minister, George Osborne, told a news conference by the
ministers. "You are robbing from your fellow citizens and you
should be treated like a common thief."
Schaeuble had told German newspaper Bild before the talks
that the OECD agreement was making tax evasion more difficult,
adding: "Banking secrecy in its old form has had its day."
The European Union has enforced the automatic exchange of
interest income since 2005 and America's Foreign Account Tax
Compliance Act (FATCA) has required non-U.S. institutions to
provide U.S. tax authorities with data on accounts since 2010.
The United States was not a signatory in Berlin. Gurria said
it was having its own internal debate on taxes, but was a "very
strong supporter of everything we are doing".
He added that Switzerland was part of the process but was
not one of the 51 states which had agreed to be "early adopters"
before the 2018 deadline.
Schaeuble said the OECD deal "would not have been possible
without FATCA, which was the trigger for our own process". The
"G5" biggest European economies -- Germany, France, Italy, Spain
and Britain -- have negotiated with Washington for FATCA to be
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin described the Berlin
agreement as the "first pillar -- fighting tax fraud committed
by private people". "Then we need to reduce tax optimization by
companies," he added.
Schaeuble, whose father was a tax adviser, has campaigned
for the European Union to close loopholes used by multinational
firms to reduce tax bills by exploiting differences in national
tax rules. He is now targeting "patent boxes" that permit firms
tax breaks on profits generated by patented research.
But the 72-year-old minister said he had no illusions that
the ancient art of tax evasion would be consigned to history.
"The risk of being found out becomes very high. But as long
as people exist, they will not all obey the law. They'll work
out new ways to dodge taxes," Schaeuble said.
But it should end the controversial practice of some German
state governments of buying CDs with tax data stolen from Swiss
banks, which has led to a rise in the number of people turning
themselves in to avoid prosecution for evasion.
"Hopefully tax CDs will soon no longer be worth it. I always
found it problematic to cooperate with 'fences' to enforce the
law," said Schaeuble, referring to someone who receives stolen
(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller and Michael Nienaber;
Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Andrew Roche)