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British offshore banking under fire in EU tax haven battle
Austria has accused Britain of being a haven for money laundering and tax evasion as the Alpine nation comes under European Union and German pressure to axe its banking secrecy laws.

Europe's finance ministers meeting in Dublin today are pushing Austria hard to follow Luxembourg's example in agreeing to reveal information on European banking depositors to EU tax authorities.

Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister, has vowed to "fight like a lion" against the demands and has refused to change her country's laws until Britain ends tax haven and banking secrecy laws in offshore financial centres, such as the Channel Islands.

"Austria is sticking to bank secrecy. We fight tax evasion and money laundering," she said.

"Great Britain has many money laundering centres and tax havens in its immediate legal remit - the Channel Islands Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands. These are all hot spots for tax evasion and money laundering."

Austria is opposed to German-led demands for the automatic exchange of information on banking depositors with other EU countries, proposals that will be discussed by Europe's finance ministers.

Earlier this week, Luxembourg caved into German pressure and announced it would to share foreign bank account details with the depositor's home governments, if EU countries, from 2015.

"Automatic exchange of information involves a massive interference in people's privacy rights. Here the state sniffs around deep into the private affairs of account holders," said Mrs Fekter.

The Austrian finance minister has described Britain as "the island of the blessed for tax evasion and money laundering", comparing British offshore banking to the Cypriot financial sector that is to be forcibly restructured as part of a eurozone bailout.

"Just as we urged the abolition of sealed foundations in the Cyprus rescue to drain the money laundering swamp, we must demand the same of the UK," she wrote in an article for Kurier, an Austrian newspaper.

"We want a trust registry for the Channel Islands, but also for countries where British law applies, such as the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands or Gibraltar. These are all areas that are havens for tax evaders."

Eurozone finance ministers will also discuss Cyprus as the EU-IMF has frozen its contribution at €10 billion as the costs of its bail-out surged from €17.5bn to €23bn, larger than the size of the country's economy, further bankrupting the island.

In a bid to stop Cyprus leaving the euro, the EU-IMF has demanded that it hand three quarters of the countrya426;s gold reserves to pay back loans making it much harder for the island to ditch the single currency to go it alone.

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