Online petition in Europe challenges tax havens

ZURICH Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:29pm IST

The shadows of shoppers are cast onto the ground in St Helier, Jersey November 13, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files

The shadows of shoppers are cast onto the ground in St Helier, Jersey November 13, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth/Files

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ZURICH (Reuters) - European campaigners launched an online petition on Wednesday for a clampdown on tax havens, demanding a "truth commission" to investigate Switzerland's role in corruption and tax evasion.

Years of spending cuts and tax rises in countries struggling to tame national debts have stoked public indignation about tax avoidance by the rich.

Brussels-based group Transparency Europe launched the petition on Change.org (www.change.org/users/46852749).

"For the past years, the headlines in Europe and around the world have been filled with one tale after another about offshore havens, bad banking, money laundering, and official corruption," the petition reads.

"The time for endless fascination with the salacious details of particular cases is over. It is time to do something about it. Nothing less than the future of democracy is at stake."

France was rocked by an admission last week from former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac that he had held a secret Swiss bank account, while on Thursday Austria's finance minister told Britain and the United States to shed light on offshore financial centres in their own back yards.

Luxembourg has announced plans to lift bank secrecy rules from 2015 for EU citizens who have savings there, adding to pressure on Switzerland.

Switzerland - the world's biggest offshore centre with $2.1 trillion in assets, according to the Boston Consulting Group - has pledged to cooperate more with foreign tax investigations.

Besides the "truth and justice" commission on Switzerland, the Transparency Europe petition calls for criminal action against politicians and officials with suspect fortunes stashed in tax havens and for a fund to help whistleblowers.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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