December 19, 2012 / 1:45 AM / 6 years ago

Uruguayan Congress approves deal to fight tax evasion

* Argentine inspectors to get access to banking information

* Argentines frequently stash cash in Uruguayan banks

* OECD urged Uruguay to reach accord

MONTEVIDEO, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Uruguay’s Congress gave final approval on Tuesday to an accord that will let Argentine tax inspectors dig up information on savers with Uruguayan bank accounts to crack down on evasion and money laundering.

Uruguay has traditionally been a magnet for Argentine savings thanks to its relative economic stability and banking secrecy rules, which were overhauled in December 2010 to comply with international standards.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had urged Uruguay to strike accords to share tax information with its biggest trading partners, among them Argentina and Brazil.

Uruguay’s agreement with Argentina, which the lower house passed with 50 votes in favor and 18 against, will take effect immediately but will not be retroactive despite Argentina’s initial request that it could also be used in ongoing tax evasion investigations.

Tax agents will only be able to share information in specific cases where there is a strong likelihood of evasion.

“This is a strategic accord because it places us in the new global context, in a different relationship with Argentina, and clearly several measures have been included that ... safeguard our sovereignty,” ruling-party legislator Jose Carlos Mahia said during the debate.

Non-residents with bank accounts in Uruguay, most of whom are Argentines, held deposits of $3.28 billion as of June 2012, according to the latest central bank data.

Argentine investors also have a strong presence in Uruguay’s agricultural and real estate markets.

Argentina’s AFIP tax agency had been seeking the agreement with Uruguay for years to combat evasion. The AFIP will be able to obtain information on Argentines with holdings in Uruguay but only via requests stemming from individual evasion probes.

In December, the OECD moved Uruguay off a global watch list created to pressure countries to crack down on tax cheats after the country signed a series of new tax cooperation accords. (Reporting by Malena Castaldi and Felipe Llambias; Writing by Helen Popper and Hilary Burke. Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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