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Anything to Declare?

The changeover to Europe's new single currency is flushing out the Deutschmarks, undeclared to the tax man.


Swiss banks don't ask embarassing questions

The flow of cash across the frontier in bags and suitcases has been estimated at up to DM 40-million a day ($ 18.42 million), mainly carried by innocent looking travellers. And, of course, the authorities are out to stop them.

Wads and wads of cash hidden away under beds, stuffed into mattresses or otherwise concealed from official eyes are being sneaked past the border in search of a safe haven.

With the need to change the notes safely, a surprisingly large number of seemingly respectable Germans, for instance, have been smuggling their Deutschmarks to Switzerland, where the banks don't ask too many embarrassing questions.

Customs officials are aware of the tax evaders from across the border. Anyone carrying more than 30 thousand marks ($ 13,814) in cash is required to explain it to customs officials. Often the money has not been declared. Within the European Union, sums like these cannot be exchanged or deposited without question.

Within the hour, German tax evaders can be in the heart of Zurich, one of the world's biggest financial centres. But it looks like panic has broken out among them, because for the last six months, customs officials have noted increasing travel by people carrying unregistered money. To do their job, customs officers rely on experience and intuition.

"The typical tax evader is actually a small-scale tradesman with about 40 to 50 employees. Usually of a mature age, between 50 and 55, and with a middle-class car - nothing extravagant. A BMW 500 series, or a Mercedes or Audi 100. Usually the cars aren't the current year's model, either. And often they travel with their wife or daughter or son, whom they are showing how to handle this kind of account," says Michael Schuster, a customs officer.

Even if they find someone carrying dubious amounts of cash, it will take at least a year or two before it's clear whether this find brings more money to the tax office. That's how long it takes the tax department to determine whether the money in the Swiss account has already been taxed in Germany.

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