The Media Misses Again Regarding OECD Treaty Standards

July 15th, 2009

Apparently nobody at Reuters read my post yesterday about the media’s skewed coverage of the OECD grey list and the signing of TIEAs. I wrote regarding the media’s coverage of Luxembourg coming off the OECD grey-list:

But there is an entirely separate side to this story that hasn’t permeated the coverage at all: the OECD standards are useless in any practical sense, and under these standards wealthy tax evaders will still feel perfectly safe stashing their money in Luxembourg.  As we discuss extensively on this website – the OECD’s standards require a tax haven to share a specific person’s bank account information with another country only if the requesting country can prove to Luxembourg that a certain person is evading taxes in the requesting country.  In short, as international tax law expert Jack Blum puts it, “If you have the information, we’ll give it to you.”  Of course, if you have the information, then you no longer need it, which is why we advocate a system of automatic exchange of tax information.

Of course, I then came across this story as I was flipping through news articles today on the Reuters website, which talks about how Switzerland may be coming off of the OECD’s grey-list in the near future.  The article concludes:

Switzerland is the world’s biggest offshore banking centre and the signing of the treaties is weakening its treasured bank secrecy. Austria and Luxembourg are both bank secrecy strongholds.

But again there’s no mention of what the OECD standards mean.  And, I suppose it is true that Switzerland’s banking secrecy is ever-so-slightly “weakened” by the treaties  (at least in a theoretical perspective), but in any pragmatic sense the treaties do nothing to assist foreign governments that are investigating tax evaders.  This is again why it’s so important for us to require automatic exchange of tax information.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll wake up to read a story about the OECD grey-list which paints the whole picture.  Or perhaps I’m being overly optimistic.

Written by Clark Gascoigne

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