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Foreign Min: Austria Backs Switzerland In Tax Haven Row-Paper

Published: 24 Oct 2008 02:18:26 PST

GENEVA (AFP)--Austria came out with support for its neighbor Switzerland on Thursday against calls from France and Germany that it be placed on a blacklist of tax havens.

"Austria will always support Switzerland," Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger.

Her comments followed a call by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck that Switzerland "should be on the blacklist" drawn up by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, of countries that do not cooperate over tax evasion.

Switzerland, often criticized for its opaque bank secrecy laws, decided to boycott the OECD meeting in Paris along with Luxembourg, while the U.S. and Austria declined to send representatives.

Plassnik said that Steinbrueck's comments were unjustified, and she felt they also targeted her country.

"We won't be called a tax haven by anyone," she said, adding that Austria "scrupulously" lived up to all its obligations as an OECD member.

However, "banking secrecy is an important principle for us," she said, though in certain "exceptional" cases this could be waived.

Steinbrueck's comments caused an uproar in Switzerland, and the government summoned Berlin's ambassador for a meeting over the issue.

The OECD lists 38 countries that have adopted tight banking secrecy laws and are tax-free, or have very low taxation.

But only three of those - Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco - are on the OECD blacklist for refusing to share any information on their finance sectors.

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