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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill on Thursday signed an information-sharing agreement with Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, to help U.S. authorities crack down on the use of offshore tax havens to hide illegal money.

It marks the Bush administration's latest effort to open financial institutions to greater scrutiny to prevent tax evasion.

The Bush administration has signed similar information-sharing agreements with the Netherlands Antilles, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and the Cayman Islands.

Thursday's agreement is designed to allow the Internal Revenue Service to pierce the secrecy of accounts at financial institutions in Guernsey, paving the way for audits that could uncover tax evasion or money-laundering activities.

The Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are dependencies of the British crown, not part of the United Kingdom, and have their own legislatures and financial regulations.

``Today cooperation between governments is more important than ever before as we work to ensure that no safe haven exists anywhere in the world for the funds associated with illicit activities, including terrorism, money laundering and tax evasion,'' said O'Neill.

Led by O'Neill, the administration has shifted the U.S. focus in dealing with tax havens away from international efforts to overhaul tax structures and toward agreements that allow easier U.S. pursuit of suspected cheaters.