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U.S. judge tosses bankers' suit over rules to fight tax-dodging

By Patrick Temple-West

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a win for the Obama administration's fight against offshore tax evasion, a U.S. federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging new rules forcing U.S. banks to tell the Internal Revenue Service about certain accounts held by foreigners.

Set to take effect in March, the rules are part of a fast-emerging global web of bank information-sharing agreements between the United States and many other countries meant to combat the hiding of assets abroad to avoid paying taxes.

Bank industry lobbying groups in Texas and Florida in April challenged the U.S. rules in a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the IRS, saying the rules were burdensome and would discourage U.S. foreign investment.

Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in a 23-page opinion, dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the new rules "would cause minimal burden to banks and their customers."

Written in 2012, the rule would require disclosure by U.S. banks of information about accounts held by non-resident aliens that earn at least $10 of interest per year.

"The court's opinion today represents an important step in our commitment to work with our treaty partners to eliminate cross-border tax evasion," said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally, head of Justice's tax division, in a statement.

A lawyer representing the banking associations could not immediately be reached late on Monday.

The new reporting requirements help the United States implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA), the Justice Department said.

Approved by Congress in 2010, FATCA is driving the rapid worldwide expansion of a network of bilateral tax information-sharing agreements, negotiated by the U.S. Treasury and its overseas counterparts amid heightened global concern about tax dodging. FATCA is set to take effect in July 2014.

The case is Florida Bankers Association v. U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 13-529.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Eric Walsh)

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