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UK and Swiss seal long-awaited tax deal

Wednesday 24 August 2011 - by Will Henley

British and Swiss authorities have clinched a deal settling a longstanding dispute over the non-payment of UK taxes, Global Financial Strategy can reveal.

Under a bilateral treaty concluded on Wednesday, Swiss banks, their clients and employees will be immune from criminal prosecution over alleged tax evasion, while the country's famous banking privacy laws will be retained.

Following months of hard-bitten negotiations, the deal will see Swiss banks forced to make an upfront payment of Sfr500m (£384m/€440m/$634m), which will be offset against tax payments to be made by their clients.

In turn, it is understood that account holders owing UK taxes will have one or two options to "regularise" their Swiss assets, either by offering a one-off payment or through voluntary disclosure.

The settlement follows a partial deal in October last year whereby the UK agreed to submit a limited number of requests for assistance stating a client's name, but not necessarily their bank's name.

As part of the final treaty, it is believed that Britain's HM Revenue & Customs has agreed not to use stolen data to pursue action against Swiss banks or clients.

Swiss banks will also be given the green light to operate in the British market, similar to the terms of a treaty concluded with Germany earlier this month.

That landmark deal between Berlin and Bern saw Swiss authorities agree to a Sfr2bn advance to German authorities, with income awarded from anonymous undeclared accounts.

Under the terms of the UK-Swiss deal, Swiss banks are also expected to deduct a withholding tax annually on an anonymous basis from income from their assets.

The withholding tax is understood to be equivalent to the UK's 48 per cent of interest income, 40 per cent of dividend income and 27 per cent on capital gains.

A maximum rate of 34 per cent of assets will apply to the one-off payment with an effective rate for clients at between 20 and 26 per cent of total assets.

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