Another tax CD causes controversy in Germany

There are fears that stealing bank data will become a “popular sport” in Germany Ex-press

Authorities in the German state of Baden-Württemberg are facing the dilemma of how to react to the offer of another CD said to contain bank details of tax offenders.

This content was published on August 24, 2010 - 13:22

A CD containing information about Swiss accounts was offered to the state earlier this year and later acquired by the German government.

The new CD is said to include the names of 250 companies which allegedly deposited hundreds of millions of euros in Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes to the German taxman.

For the most part it is telecommunications and property companies that are allegedly involved. The total amount of tax unpaid is said to be between €600 million (SFr809 million) and €800 million a year.

A spokesman for Baden-Württemberg’s finance minister Willi Stächele (Christian Democratic Union) confirmed to the accuracy of a report about the existence of the CD in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

However, he did not wish to comment on the extent of the tax evasion.

Anonymous informant

He confirmed that there was contact with an anonymous informant, adding the ministry had to leave the matter on hold for the time being because no specific details had been handed over for examination.

Even if the data proved to be genuine, the state government would not alter its policy on the issue

“As long as the origins are not clear beyond any doubt, we will not buy the CD,” the spokesman said.

The state government of Baden-Württemberg, made up of politicians from the CDU and Free Democratic Party, wants to look into the CD offer but will not buy the information if obtained illegally.

“We are not going to buy data which has been unlawfully acquired,” said the spokesman for Stefan Mappus (CDU), head of the state government.

“Popular sport”

The head of the CDU group in the state parliament, Peter Hauk, is calling for an in-depth investigation into whether data has been supplied and what it includes. He has warned: “The offer of tax CDs must not develop into some kind of popular sport.”

The deputy head of the Social Democratic Party’s state parliamentary group, Nils Schmid, says the ruling coalition will be guilty of supporting tax evasion if it once again turns down an offer to buy the data.

A CD with Swiss account data was offered to Baden-Württemberg at the beginning of this year but the government did not buy it after pressure from the FDP.

The reasoning then was that the competent people dealing with the data could possibly make themselves liable to prosecution. The data was subsequently acquired by the German government and the state of Lower Saxony.

Criminal proceedings

The authorities in Baden-Württemberg also used it for criminal proceedings against tax evaders.

Should the latest CD turn out upon investigation to be genuine, the state government of Baden-Württemberg may speculate again that another state government will buy the CD,” said Schmid.

“The state government just wants to obscure the fact that the FDP wishes to protect its clients.”

“If there is a legal risk for officials in buying the CD the state government must logically wave its right to any income that may result if another state steps in.”

He says it boils down to the CDU and FDP wanting to pass the buck to other states. “The state government is behaving badly and dishonourably.”

The FDP group in Baden-Württemberg is sticking to its guns. Its leader Hans-Ulrich Rülke emphasises that tax evasion is a criminal offence that has to be pursued closely.

“But as long as there is no definitive judicial ruling on tax-dodger CDs, I see no reason to buy the data.”

Lena Langbein in Berlin, (Translated from German by Robert Brookes)

The taxman cometh

In recent years German authorities have repeatedly been offered CDs with data of possible tax offenders. Many who put their money in tax havens to avoid paying tax have since been caught or have given themselves up.

After buying a CD with information on clients and staff at Credit Suisse, Düsseldorf prosecutors began preliminary investigations in March into about 1,100 cases.

The assets are said to have totalled €1.2 billion. The finance authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia are said to have paid €2.5 million for the information.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung estimates that in this case more than €1 billion will flow into state coffers.

News leaked in June that the German government and Lower Saxony had bought a CD in Switzerland with data of more than 20,000 suspected German tax evaders.

The finance authorities in this case estimate additional revenue in double-digit millions. The data was bought for €185,000.

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