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Brit pack among record number of billionaires on Switzerland's rich list
Article by Adam Sage published in the British daily ‘The Times’ on December 9th, 2006.

Switzerland offers the rich its legendary banking secrecy, but also the opportunity to negotiate with the taxman.

Residents can ask for a fiscal deal that involves a broad-brush estimate of the taxes that they should pay rather than an exact percentage of their revenue and assets.

According to François-Xavier Micheloud, a tax specialist based in Lausanne, the amount levied under a lump-sum assessment is at least five times the annual rental value of residents’ homes.

“On the whole, it is better to adopt this approach if you have a revenue of more than SwFr300,000 (£128,000) a year,” he said.

Mr Micheloud has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of Britons settling in Switzerland since 2002 and said that they now represented about half his clients. He said that they were drawn by low taxes and an enviable quality of life. Switzerland was also attractive for those who paid taxes in the standard way, without a lump-sum assessment.

Although taxes are based on worldwide net incomes, rates are relatively clement. They vary from canton to canton but rarely exceed 35 per cent.

Inheritance tax is also set locally and some districts do not tax transfers between family members. There is no capital gains tax, which makes Switzerland attractive for retired people with their savings in the stock market. “We get a lot of bankers who come here when they retire at 40,” Mr Micheloud said.

One disadvantage of the country’s fiscal regime is the wealth tax, which is set locally.However, wealth tax rates — which rarely exceed 0.7 per cent — are far lower than their French equivalents.

In France, households with assets of between €750,000 (£508,000) and €1.2m pay 0.55 per cent. Those with assets over €15.5m pay 1.80 per cent.

Many well-heeled French families come to Switzerland to escape this punitive wealth tax.

Low taxes and a high quality of life draw some of the world's wealthiest to the land of lakes and mountains

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One motor racing tycoon, and John Magnier, the Irish horse racing magnate, are among a record 118 Swiss franc billionaires, according to a survey of Switzerland’s richest people.

The billionaires’ combined fortune represents SwFr460 billion (£196 billion) — more than the country’s gross national product — according to research published this week by the magazine Bilan.

The finding emerged from the magazine’s annual study of Switzerland’s 300 wealthiest residents, who include numer- ous ex-pats, such as the singers Phil Collins and Tina Turner.

It underlined Switzerland’s attractiveness to well-heeled Britons, other Europeans and North Americans, who are able to negotiate a flat tax with the authorities. “This is an excellent vintage,” Bilan said in an editorial. “We have never had so many billionaires.”

The magazine found that the number of billionaires had increased by 11 to 118 since 2005 and that the overall wealth of the 300 people in the list had grown by 14 per cent.

By contrast, Briton has the equivalent of 150 Swiss franc billionaires, according to the Sunday Times Rich List — six times fewer per head of population.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the Swedish furniture store chain Ikea, tops the Swiss chart with a fortune estimated at up to SwFr26 billion. Mr Kamprad, 80, whose main residence is in Lausanne, is notoriously frugal and drives a 15-year-old Volvo.

Next on Bilan’s list are the Oeri and Hoffman families, founders of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, whose combined wealth is estimated at up to £9 billion.

They are followed by Victor Vekselberg, the Russian aluminium magnate, who is known for his collection of diamond- studded Fabergé eggs. His assets are estimated at up to £6.5 billion.

Mr Ecclestone, who owns a villa in Gstaad in the Swiss Alps, is the wealthiest Briton on the list, with assets estimated at up to £2.5 billion.

He is followed by Alan Parker, the duty-free shopping tycoon, who lives in Lord Byron’s former residence near Geneva. His fortune is estimated at up to SwFr3 billion.

Mr Magnier’s wealth is estimated at up to £1.3 billion.

Michael Schumacher, the retired former Formula One world champion, who is moving into a house by the side of Lake Léman, is teetering on the edge of the billionaires’ group, with assets estimated at up to £500 million.

Schumacher, along with many Formula One racing drivers, used to live in Monaco, where there is no income tax, except for French ex-pats, but along with many Germans and French, he has been tempted by Switzerland.

“It’s true that you pay more tax here than in somewhere like Monaco,” François-Xavier Micheloud, a Lausanne-based tax specialist, said, “but there is a quality of life here and it is a wonderful place to raise children.”

The exodus of French people seeking to escape from their native company’s punitive wealth tax is particularly noticeable. They include the Peugeot family, which controls the car manufacturer, with up to £2.5 billion; Benjamin de Rothschild, from the banking dynasty, with up to £1.7 billion; and the Wertheimer family, which owns Chanel, with up to £1.7 billion.

By contrast, the pop stars in Bilan’s list are paupers. Turner, who is domiciled in Zurich, and Collins, who lives in Fréchy, each have up to a mere £130 million.

Enjoying the good life

  • Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One magnate: SwFr5bn-6bn

  • Alan Parker, duty-free shopping tycoon: SwFr2bn-3bn

  • Laurence Graff, jeweller: SwFr2bn-3bn

  • Phil Collins, singer: SwFr200m-300m

  • Nicola Foulston, former owner of Brands Hatch: SwFr100m-200m

  • Nick Rodwell, married to Fanny, widow of Tintin’s creator: SwFr100m-200m

    SwFr26bn: Estimated wealth of Ingvar Kamprad

    Source: Bilan

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