The voluntary disclosures by Swiss taxpayers jumped dramatically in 2017. The most likely reason for the increase is the fact that the Swiss government started to collect information under its numerous Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) agreements. Let’s analyze in more detail this connection between the Swiss voluntary disclosures and the Swiss AEOI Compliance.
Swiss AEOI Compliance: Increase in Swiss Voluntary Disclosures
The increase in Swiss voluntary disclosures between 2015 and 2017 is undeniable. The Swiss said approximately 350,000 voluntary declarations were made in 2016, compared to 328,000 in 2015. While the numbers for 2017 for the entire country are not available, we can extrapolate the 2017 numbers based on the canton of Zurich.
On January 4, 2018, the canton of Zurich reported that there were almost three times as many of voluntary disclosures of unreported assets by Swiss taxpayers in 2017 than in 2016. A total of 6,150 voluntary disclosures were submitted in 2017 whereas only 2,100 voluntary disclosures were made in 2016. The disclosures brought in about 104 million Swiss francs of additional tax income in 2017; the 2016 number was only 85 million Swiss francs.
The Swiss government also stated that the 2017 voluntary disclosures concerning ownership of real estate in Italy, Portugal and Spain were especially high.
Swiss AEOI Compliance Has a Direct Impact on Swiss Voluntary Disclosures
The connection between Swiss AEOI compliance and the increase in the voluntary disclosures is obvious. In fact, the cantonal government of Zurich directly stated that it attributed the jump in voluntary disclosures to the Swiss AEOI agreements, especially those related to the EU countries.
Already in 2017, the Swiss government started collecting financial information about Swiss taxpayers in order to turn it over to its partner jurisdictions under the Swiss AEOI agreements. The exchange of information under the Swiss AEOI compliance obligations is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2018 for the calendar year 2017 and 2019 for the calendar year 2018.
The Swiss AEOI compliance obligations are very broad due to the fact that Switzerland signed AEOI agreements with 53 jurisdictions already, including the European Union. The European Union is considered to be a single jurisdiction even though it consists of twenty-eight countries. The EU-Switzerland AEOI agreement was approved by the Swiss Parliament in 2016.
The Connection Between Swiss AEOI Compliance and FATCA
As Sherayzen Law Office has repeatedly pointed out in the past, the passage of FATCA in the United States has completely changed the international tax landscape concerning international information exchange with respect to foreign accounts and other foreign assets. In fact, FATCA and the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks have completely destroyed the vaulted Swiss bank privacy laws (though, the 2008 UBS case made the first hole in this bastion of offshore privacy).
After seeing the success of FATCA with respect to US tax compliance, the rest of the world joined the party. The new Common Reporting Standard or CRS was the OECD’s response to FATCA with an ambition to force even more transparency than required by FATCA and making this transparency apply to the United States. The US government refused to join CRS, but it did not prevent the CRS into growing in as important of an international tax compliance standard as FATCA.
Additionally, the enforcement of FATCA had another side-effect: a rapid proliferation of the AEOI agreements, both bilateral and multilateral. The new web of AEOI agreements is growing larger with the passage of time forcing an ever greater international tax transparency. The recent Swiss AEOI compliance is just the latest example of this trend.
Will we ever see a reversal of this trend? It is a real possibility, but it is unlikely that it will be able to destroy the legal groundwork for greater tax transparency that has been laid out by FATCA, CRS and the AEOI agreements.