January 13, 2011 / 2:37 PM / 9 years ago

Italy, Swiss discussing new tax deal -Italy minister

* New double tax accord under discussion

* Italy clampdown on tax evasion sours ties

BERNE, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Italy and Switzerland could negotiate a new bilateral tax deal to settle a simmering dispute about Italian assets stashed in secret Swiss accounts, possibly mirroring an agreement with France, a minister said on Thursday.

“We talked about the bilateral taxation situation and the idea of reopening the doors to negotiate a bilateral agreement to avoid double taxation,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters during an official visit to Berne.

After coming under heavy global pressure over the bank secrecy that allows foreigners to hide their assets from the taxman in Switzerland, Berne has pledged in a series of bilateral deals to cooperate more to catch tax cheats.

The Swiss canton of Ticino, just across the border from Italy, has served as an easy place for Italians to stash their money offshore, and its banking association has put its members’ assets at $390 billion.

But a bid by the cash-strapped Italian government to crack down on tax evaders, including searches of Italians entering Switzerland, has soured relations and lessened the attraction of Swiss accounts as has an amnesty to attract assets home.

The amnesty, concluded in April, led to the declaration of 97 billion euros ($127.5 billion) abroad — much of it in Switzerland — and the return to Italy of 39 billion euros.

Frattini said a deal Switzerland struck with France last year could be the model for an agreement with Italy.

France agreed a new double taxation agreement with Switzerland last year after resolving a dispute over the theft of client data from HSBC’s (HSBA.L) Geneva offices.

Switzerland agreed the outlines of deals with Britain and Germany late last year that went further, legitimising assets stashed in Switzerland on payment of penal taxes and introducing a withholding tax on new deposits while preserving bank secrecy.

Swiss bankers have said they expect France and Italy to negotiate similar deals. (Reporting by Katie Reid, writing by Emma Thomasson)

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