*Swiss made list of 23 countries they want to approach
*Berne will not wait for EU decision on single tax mandate
(adds quotes, details, background)
BERNE, May 6 (Reuters) - Switzerland said on Wednesday it wants to clinch 12 new bilateral tax deals by the end of 2009 to be removed from a “grey list” of states that need to improve tax cooperation and to avoid sanctions from the G20 nations.
In a list published last month the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development named and shamed countries that do not sufficiently help other jurisdictions in the fight against tax evasion. The G20 is threatening those unwilling to cooperate with sanctions.
To be removed from the list, global wealth management leader Switzerland and other major offshore centres must sign at least 12 bilateral tax treaties in which they offer to exchange information in tax evasion matters.
“I have more than once criticised this number. I find the whole thing childish. But what happened is now something of the past. We need to look ahead,” Swiss President and Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said.
“Our goal is to sign at least 12 treaties by year end.”
Under pressure from the G20, Switzerland agreed on March 13 to relax its prized bank secrecy and accepted for the first time to share certain bank client data with other jurisdictions once bilateral tax treaties are ratified.
The Swiss government has drafted a list of 23 countries, whose names Merz did not disclose, that it wants to approach quickly for talks on the new tax treaties.
He said Switzerland would approach European Union states individually rather than wait for the bloc’s 27 governments to approve an EU-wide mandate from the executive European Commission.
Switzerland’s lengthy direct democracy system, which includes the possibility of a referendum, means treaties may be signed, but not fully ratified by parliament by year end.
Berne has already started talks with the United States, Japan and Poland.
Talks with Washington are particularly crucial for Berne as U.S. authorities have accused Swiss bank giant UBS UBSN.VXUBS.N of helping rich clients to hide money in secret Swiss accounts. UBS is losing clients because of the bad publicity.
Merz has asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last month to include the issue of UBS in the tax talks and to halt the legal process until a new tax deal is signed.
“He has fully understood our concerns,” Merz said when asked about Geithner’s response. “But he told me: I cannot guarantee that this is going to work. I will see what I can do.” (Reporting by Lisa Jucca; Editing by Andy Bruce)
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