Bankgeheimnis

“Banking secrecy.” Luxemburg announced on 07 Apr 2013 that they intend to relax their banking code of silence, “no longer strictly refusing” to automatically share information about international accounts with other countries’ tax authorities, starting in 2015. EU countries have also been in negotiations with Switzerland about similar issues for several years, though individually as separate countries and not with the full power of the EU.

Until now, foreigners banking in Luxemburg have paid an anonymous tax of 35% on interest earned there. This will be changed in Luxemburg e.g so that account holders’ names will be included in the information shared with German tax authorities.

German critics say this is insufficient because other Luxemburg income, such as company profits, remains untaxed for foreigners. Also, Luxemburg isn’t the only European tax oasis. Jürgen Trittin of the Green Party criticized Austria, for example, where names of foreign account holders earning interest in Austrian banks are only shared after initiation of criminal proceedings. Green Party finance guy Gerhard Schick wrote that the G20 summit in 2009 actually agreed to end Bankgeheimnis; certainly some reforms were enacted that year though movement has been slow since, until the recent data leak. The ZDF report concluded by saying that economists have warned that if only some tax oases reform their laws, the ones that don’t will profit from acquiring fleeing customers.

Update on 09 Apr 2013: “In principle, Liechtenstein has separated itself from its tax haven past.” Speaking of Liechtenstein, it looks like they had an interesting idea for a new field for financial services experts in former tax oases to move into: ratings agencies that are independent of the big three on Wall Street. The nonprofit Carlo Foundation (carlofoundation.org), said to be the world’s first independent fund rating agency, was founded in Liechtenstein in July 2012.

Update on 22 May 2013: At their summit in Brussels all 27 EU leaders confirmed in principle their finance ministers’ decision to eliminate Bankgeheimnis for “foreign”-held bank accounts, insurance policies and investments starting in 2015. The leaders of the two last holdouts, Luxemburg and Austria, said they too would agree to the automatic exchange of data after the EU as a whole negotiated banking agreements with relevant third-party countries such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Monaco. Luxemburg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker said his country is particularly concerned that the same competition conditions apply in finance centers inside and outside the EU. Negotiations with Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra, Switzerland and San Marino about automatic exchange of banking data are underway and expected to be concluded quickly, in “two to three months.” If all goes according to schedule, EU leaders could completely eliminate Bankgeheimnis at their meeting in December 2013.

Update on 20 Mar 2014: The 28 E.U. heads of government agreed to end Bankgeheimnis in the European Union, with comprehensive exchanges of tax data. This will also end banking secrecy for foreigners, though that might mean only for foreigners from other E.U. member states. Five third-party countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra, also agreed to exchange sufficient information to end banking secrecy de facto with regard to interest income, said Luxemburg’s prime minister, saying this fulfilled Luxemburg’s conditions for also agreeing to the new policy.

The O.E.C.D.’s standard for automatic data exchange will be the orientation point, and the E.U. hopes it will become the standard for tax information exchange regulations worldwide, said E.U. Council President Herman Van Rompuy. But today’s breakthrough E.U. policy agreement goes beyond the requirements of the O.E.C.D. standard:

“In future, the data exchange is supposed to apply not only to private persons but also to certain trusts and foundations. The guideline will also apply for stock profits and certain insurance profits, particularly from life insurance and investment funds. The banks are also to be obligated to collect more information in future about the actual economic owners of companies.”

(BONK geh HIGH mniss.)

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