ZURICH (Reuters) - Deals with Germany, Britain and Austria to tax secret Swiss bank accounts appear unlikely to go to a referendum in Switzerland after opponents of the plan failed to submit enough signatures.
The Swiss parliament has given a green light to the agreements, which would impose a retroactive levy of up to 41 percent on capital in offshore bank accounts held by citizens of the three other countries, impose a tax on future interest income and allow the account-holders to remain anonymous.
Opponents were hoping to sink the deals via a referendum tentatively scheduled for November 25, but they have failed to submit enough signatures in Berne.
"I expect there won't be a vote," said Pirmin Schwander, president of the Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS), a group close to the powerful right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).
The AUNS says the deals infringe upon the Alpine country's sovereignty by forcing it to act as a tax collector for other states.
Austria and Britain have already ratified the pacts, which can come into force in January in those two countries.
In Germany, however, the deal has yet to pass the Bundesrat upper house, where the centre-right government lacks a majority. The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have vowed to scupper the pact because they say it lets tax evaders off too easily.
The Swiss government has sought withholding tax agreements as an alternative to the automatic exchange of bank information to defend the secrecy that is crucial to the country's $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry.
Under Swiss law, a minimum of 50,000 signatures must be collected in 100 days for a plebiscite. In a first step the signatures are verified by the municipalities, and they are then checked by the federal chancellery in Berne.
About 5,000 signatures failed to arrive in the Swiss capital on time, Schwander, an SVP member of parliament, told Reuters.
The chancellery expects to finish its examination of the signatures late on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.
The youth wing of the centre-left Social Democrats has also collected signatures to force a referendum. But that group says the deals go too easy on tax cheats.
(Reporting by Albert Schmieder, writing by Catherine Bosley, editing by Robert Woodward)