Canada turns to France to help in tax-cheat probe

Fri Jan 8, 2010 11:39am EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's taxman said on Friday he is close to obtaining names of suspected tax avoiders with accounts in Switzerland, despite a legal setback in his efforts to identify clients of UBS as part of an ongoing probe.

Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said he is confident France will respond favorably to a request that Ottawa will make that it share information it has on Canadians with accounts in Switzerland.

It is not illegal to hold assets in Switzerland but bank secrecy laws there make it a popular haven for tax cheats.

Blackburn said French Budget Minister Eric Woerth confirmed to him that a list of 3,000 names of people with Swiss accounts that France obtained last year includes Canadians.

"I do not know the numbers, but my feeling is there will be many Canadians who will be on this list," Blackburn told reporters on a conference call.

"If I were a Canadian who had utilized tax havens in Switzerland .. I wouldn't wait for us to catch them because it will be too late ... If they want to save their reputation, if they want to sleep well, they should call us and utilize the voluntary disclosure (option)," he said.

The French list includes client data stolen by an ex-employee of HSBC's offshore banking headquarters in Geneva, as well as other banks.

Meanwhile, Canada's campaign to pressure UBS to provide the names of Canadian account holders appeared to weaken after a Swiss court ruled on Friday that it was illegal for a financial regulator to have ordered UBS last year to hand over the files of nearly 300 clients to U.S. officials.

"This is not good news for us today," Blackburn said, but he vowed to press on by other means.

"We will evaluate the situation. For us, we don't stop," he said.

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson)