Finance Minister Maria Fekter said Monday that Austria will not give up its banking confidentiality, even in light of a worldwide scandal involving over a hundred thousand people depositing money in off-shore accounts in tax havens.
The scandal, which was kicked off by the publication of several million financial documents on Friday, brought up the issue of tax havens and the few countries that still have banking confidentiality, such as Austria and Luxembourg.
On the weekend, Luxembourg's Finance Minister Luc Frieden said that his country might loosen its banking secrecy, which would leave Austria in an increasingly isolated position.
Fekter said that people in Austria had a right to having their finances protected, not only in a monetary aspect, but also from cross-border information exchange. She added that Austria had recently reached an agreement with Liechtenstein and Switzerland which allowed Austria to collect taxes without giving up banking secrecy, which was "very efficient." The comments were criticized by a renowned Austrian tax law expert on, who pointed out that keeping banking secrecy was in the banks' favour, and not the people's. On ORF television, tax expert Werner Doralt also said that regarding its bank secrecy, Austria could be considered a tax haven. "What is a tax haven?" he asked.
"A country where strict banking secrecy allows foreigners to dump their untaxed money, thereby withholding it from foreign treasuries." According to international media last week, anonymous informers gave journalists around 2.5 million financial documents, causing a global stir. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said that around 15 months ago, it had received 260 gigabytes of data from around ten tax havens around the world, and had been researching it ever since, together with 36 global partner organisations.