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ETF News

OECD backs use of stolen data to catch tax cheats

* Governments seen toughening up fight against tax cheats

* Still 17 jurisdictions on OECD’s tax list

* U.S. will also be subject to tax review

PARIS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, at the forefront of a crackdown on tax evasion, won’t object to governments using stolen bank data to track down tax cheats in offshore centres.

The global hunt for tax evaders, high on the G20 agenda in the financial crisis, has toughened up after Germany and France accepted data stolen from banks in Liechtenstein and Switzerland to track down undeclared money in these tax havens.

A recent case involving French tax authorities obtaining stolen client information from HSBC's HSBA.L private bank in Geneva sparked a diplomatic row with Switzerland and led Berne to freeze negotiations for a new bilateral tax agreement.

“What we don’t condone is taxpayers who do not comply with their obligations,” Jeffrey Owens, who heads the OECD’s tax division, told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether the organisation condoned the use of stolen data by governments.

“If you have to get information from informants or other means, that is just the way of making sure that these citizens are not able to shift the tax burden ... onto honest taxpayers.”

Private banks in Switzerland, which manages trillions of dollars of offshore wealth, have been lobbying the Swiss government to introduce clauses banning the use of stolen bank data in a raft of tax cooperation treaties it is negotiating.

But these efforts may fail to move many Western governments while they are trying to tackle big deficits built up during the financial crisis.

“If you look around the OECD area, almost all our member countries are prepared in fact to take information from a variety of sources,” he added as he unveiled the organisation’s progress report on the fight against tax evasion.

MONITORING CONTINUES, DELAWARE A PROBLEM

Since starting to survey offshore jurisdictions on April 2, 2009, the OECD has removed 18 countries, including Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, from a so-called “grey list” of nations that did not offer sufficient tax transparency.

Still, 17 countries do not fall in line and could face sanctions. These include smaller centres such as Andorra, Belize and Grenada but also larger countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

The monitoring will continue, and even the U.S., which has been at the forefront of the tax evasion battle by aggressively taking on Swiss wealth manager UBS UBSN.VX, will be scrutinised.

Even though the U.S. has committed to strict tax transparency standards in more than 60 treaties, non-profit organisation the Tax Justice Network rated the U.S. state of Delaware as the world’s most secretive jurisdiction.

“There is a discussion going on within the U.S. ... There are a number of bills that have been put forward to address this issue, so I am sure it is an issue that will eventually be addressed,” Owens said. (Writing by Lisa Jucca, editing by Will Waterman)

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