Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BERN, SWITZERLAND (AP) - The Swiss government said Wednesday it would immediately start negotiating ground rules with the United States and Japan on how Switzerland will help them pursue alleged tax evaders with money in Swiss banks.

Switzerland will refuse to hand over banking information unless the other countries present compelling evidence of tax evasion by specific individuals, Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz said.

Negotiations with European countries will begin later, Merz said.

The Swiss government announced earlier this month that it will cooperate in international tax investigations, breaking with a long-standing tradition of protecting wealthy foreigners accused of hiding billions of dollars.

Switzerland has come under intense pressure, in particular from the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Most recently Switzerland has been involved in a dispute with the U.S. over wealthy Americans who have assets in its biggest bank, UBS AG.

Merz said that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had called him within hours of his announcement of cooperation on March 13 and asked how the country was going to implement the move.

“Of course he’s interested in starting as soon as possible and we have no problem with that,” Merz told reporters in the capital of Bern.

Switzerland said it will adopt standards set in 2000 by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for countries working together against tax evasion.

The government has said it will include the OECD standards in tax treaties it holds with the U.S., Japan, European and other countries.

Merz said he did not know how long negotiating the agreement with the U.S. would take, but that it could be difficult.

“It’s not something you do in two weeks,” he said.

Japan is among the first countries Switzerland will deal with because negotiations were already under way before the Swiss government changed its position, Merz said.

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