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Austria says will take part in EU tax fraud talks


Austria said Friday it will take part in EU talks aimed at limiting tax fraud after weeks of holding out on the issue amid severe international criticism of over banking secrecy law.

In a joint statement on Friday, Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann and conservative vice-chancellor Michael Spindelegger agreed to join European negotiations on the automatic exchange of banking data.

"We want the international fight against tax fraud to work and we want to play a committed role in it," the coalition partners said.

"We don't want to give the impression internationally that Austria is a protector of tax dodgers."

Three conditions had to be met however, including respecting Austria's bilateral tax agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and a requirement that authorities identify the financial owners of shell corporations and trusts in every case.

Faymann and Spindelegger's statement also repeated that "Austrian banking secrecy for resident tax-payers must not be affected."

"Whether we agree to the expanded guidelines on taxation will depend on whether it is really suitable for preventing tax evasion and fraud," they added.

Austria came under fire as the European Union's last country to hold onto banking secrecy after Luxembourg announced it was prepared to lift its own regulations on the matter, amid a region-wide push to halt tax evasion.

The Alpine republic, especially its vocal finance minister Maria Fekter, has repeatedly called instead for closer investigations of "the real tax havens", citing British-dependent territories such as the Channel Islands, Gibraltar or the Cayman Islands.