Switzerland tops list of tax safe havens

Switzerland, despite bank settlements with the United States to disclose tax evaders, remains the top refuge for financial secrecy, according to a new international ranking of tax haven countries.

Switzerland is the world leader in financial opacity, only grudgingly conforming with disclosure agreements among developed countries while courting tax evaders in developing nations, said a report released on Monday by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Justice Network.

Steeped in a long tradition of bank secrecy, Switzerland has recently signed information sharing agreements as part of a reporting program with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But these efforts have been "ineffective," the report said.

Switzerland's "widespread involvement in the administration and use of trusts, foundations and offshore companies remain a major barrier to tackling tax evasion and illicit financial flows," the report said.

Officials at the Swiss embassy in Washington were not immediately available for comment.

US authorities continue to pursue Swiss banks for information about U.S. clients' assets. Credit Suisse Group AG said this summer it is under a grand jury investigation.

UBS AG in 2009 paid $780 million (505 million pounds) to settle a Justice Department investigation.

The United States ranked fifth, behind Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg and Hong Kong among the most secretive nations, according to the report.

U.S. law allows foreigners to earn income from property that can be kept secret from the tax and criminal authorities in their home countries, the report found.

"Financial secrecy provided by the U.S. has caused untold damage to the ordinary citizens of foreign countries, whose elites have used the U.S. as a bolt-hole for looted wealth," the report said.