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77,000 foreign banks agree to share account information with US in tax evasion crackdown

WASHINGTON - More than 77,000 foreign banks have agreed to share information about U.S. account holders as part of a crackdown on offshore tax evasion, the Treasury Department said Monday.

The list includes 515 Russian financial institutions. Russian banks had to apply directly to the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service because the U.S. broke off negotiations with Russia over an information-sharing agreement after Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Nearly 70 countries have agreed to share information from their banks as part of a U.S. law that targets Americans hiding assets overseas. Participating countries include all the world's financial giants, as well as many places where Americans have traditionally hid assets, including Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.

Under the law, foreign banks that do not agree to share information with the IRS face steep penalties when doing business in the U.S. The law requires American banks to withhold 30 per cent of certain payments to foreign banks that don't participate in the program — a significant price for access to the world's largest economy.

The 2010 law is known as FATCA, which stands for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. It was designed to encourage — some say force — foreign banks to share information about U.S. account holders with the IRS, making it more difficult for Americans to use overseas accounts to evade U.S. taxes.

"The strong international support for FATCA is clear, and this success will help us in our goal of stopping tax evasion and narrowing the tax gap," said Robert Stack, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for international tax affairs.

Under the law, U.S. banks that fail to withhold the tax would be liable for it themselves, a powerful incentive to comply. U.S. banks are scheduled to start withholding 30 per cent of interest and dividend payments in July, though recent guidance from the Treasury Department gives them some leeway on timing.

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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