Friday, April 18, 2008

Austria banks and Panama foundation enhance confidentiality

Austria - in the middle of Europe - provides a degree of banking secrecy which is granted by a Banking Law with the same rank as the Constitution. Unlike other financial centers - like Switzerland - which are more widely known as havens and therefore subject to higher scrutiny, Austria is known as a neutral country, headquarters to several United Nations offices. Bank accounts held by non-Austrians are not subject to Austrian taxes. Account owners can get the best of both worlds by opening Austrian bank accounts under the name of a Panama foundation, trust or corporation. Universal banks have also specialized investment staff to help with the purchase of foreign securities.
Austrian authorities have pledged their continuing support of secrecy, despite multilateral actions such as the OECD black lists and the EU Tax Savings Directive.

Austria: Bank´s Duty of Confidentiality by Michael Kutschera, Thomas Schirmer and Alexander Kramer Austrian law expressly recognises and protects a bank's duty of confidentiality (sometimes referred to as 'bank secrecy') with respect to information received by or relating to its customers. This duty is primarily governed by s 38(1) to (4) (scope and exceptions) and s 101 (criminal liability) of the Banking Act (BWG) and supplemented by several provisions of a procedural nature such as the Revenues Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
Section 38(5) of the BWG, a provision of constitutional law, affords special protection to the provisions of s 38(1) to (4) of the BWG by stipulating that an amendment of these provisions requires - similar to an amendment of a provision of constitutional law - a quorum of at least 50% and a majority of two-thirds of the deputies to the National Counsel (Nationalrat, the more powerful of Austria's two Houses of Parliament).1
Since 1 January 1994, the provisions on bank secrecy were partly amended, in particular with regard to money laundering, as Austrian law and banking practice initially permitted the opening of anonymous accounts in certain cases. In order to avoid the abuse of the Austrian banking system for the purpose of money laundering, Austrian banks in 1989 agreed on the wording of a uniform declaration, according to which each bank voluntarily undertook a number of duties to prevent such abuse.2 These duties were expanded by another declaration on additional duties of diligence in 1992, the compliance with which still was voluntary. .... The bank's duty of confidentiality Section 38(1) of the BWG reads: 'The credit institutions, their shareholders, organ members, employees, as well as persons otherwise becoming active for the credit institutions, are prohibited from disclosing or exploiting secrets which were entrusted to, or to which access was made available for, them on the basis of the business relationship with clients or on the basis of s 75 (3)5 hereof exclusively (Bank Secrecy). If, in the conduct of their official activities, organs of public authorities or of the Austrian National Bank, receive information which is subject to the Bank Secrecy, they shall maintain the Bank Secrecy as an official secret from which they may be released only in one of the cases set forth in s 38 (2). The duty of confidentiality applies without limit as to time.' Full text in

Austrian 1920 Constitution Article 10 [Federal Legislation and Execution] (1) The Federation has powers of legislation and execution in the following matters: 5. the monetary, credit, stock exchange and banking system; the weights and measures, standards, and hallmark system Article 20 [Administration] (3) All functionaries entrusted with administrative duties of Federation, States, and Counties are, except for differing regulations by law, pledged to secrecy about all facts of which they have obtained knowledge exclusively from their official activity and whose concealment is enjoined by the public interest or that of the parties concerned. Official secrecy does not exist for functionaries appointed by a popular representative body if it expressly asks for such information. Full text in

Chancellor defends Austrian banking secrecy
Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer has defended Austrian banking secrecy before the beginning of the EU summit in Brussels on the EU's Lisbon strategy for economic growth and employment. He said that such secrecy was good for Austria as a financial location and gave the country and its people an advantage. He added that Austria was ready to cooperate with other countries on the issue of tax-evasion but that it wouldn't make sense "to sacrifice" a good arrangement like banking secrecy because of that crime, which occurred in all countries. He said that he didn't know if the summit would discuss banking secrecy, which wasn't on its agenda. March 14th, 2008

Bank secrecy is sacred in Austria
Both SPÖ Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and ÖVP Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer have said that there is no need to change the Austrian bank-secrecy system in the wake of the revelation of widespread tax-evasion in Germany through use of personal foundations in Liechtenstein. Gusenbauer and Molterer claimed that the Austrian system conformed to relevant EU regulations. Molterer added that Austrian law on foundations and taxes differed significantly from Liechtenstein law in those areas and that bank secrecy would not apply in criminal proceedings. The FPÖ and the BZÖ are also opposed to changes in the Austrian bank-secrecy system. FPÖ finance spokesman Lutz Weinzinger declared that "bank secrecy is a core value in Austria and part of the country's business culture" but hastened to add that he was "no friend" of tax-evasion. BZÖ national councillor Veit Schalle added that foreign access to information about Austrian accounts would be an unacceptable assault on Austrian sovereignty and would massively damage the country as a financial location. The Greens are the only party that supports changes. They said that they would consider a parliamentary initiative in that regard if the German scandal spilled over into Austria. Austrian banks are also opposed to any changes in the Austrian system. Austria is on the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s black list for its failure to implement an EU-wide requirement for registration of capital gains. The OECD, the German finance ministry and the NGO ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens) have all called for better clarification of tax-evasion in Austria. February 21st, 2008

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