Authorities are reported to have paid up to 5 million euros for information on Germans trying to cheat the taxman. Investigators said they're examining some 700 cases of tax evasion that could total over 3 billion euros.
Hundreds of people are reportedly suspected of trying to avoid German taxes
Economy Minister Michael Glos called on business leaders to adopt ethical behavior and get rid of their bad habits, in an interview to appear Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag tabloid.
They should "be aware of their function as a model for society," he said. "Otherwise our social market economy will no longer be credible."
Weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, in its edition to appear Monday, quoted Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as saying managers did not realize the consequence of their actions.
"These people are destroying everything," he told the magazine. "When the elite do not understand that they must respect the law, it is serious."
Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck also accused tax evaders of harming Germany's social system.
"The economic elites are undermining the system," he told the online version of the weekly Die Zeit on Friday.
Hundreds of search warrants issued
The bank said it would start warning customers
Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that investigators in Bochum, where the cases are being managed, had requested a total of 900 search warrants for 700 people suspected of hiding a total of 3.4 billion euros ($5 billion) from tax authorities.
Officials said Friday they were investigating hundreds of cases of tax evasion, including key figures, via banks in the tiny principality wedged between Austria and Switzerland.
Der Spiegel reported that investigators paid 5 millions of euros (7.3 million) for secret bank data from Liechtenstein enabling them to launch the monster tax evasion probe. The money was reportedly supplied by German intelligence services (BND) and paid to an informer in 2006.
In the end, the money was deposited in an account in exchange for data identifying those behind the tax fraud in Germany but also including secret instructions from Liechtenstein on how to hide the flow of money.
Suspects at high end of income scale
Germany's tax office may be getting a lot more paperwork in the next few months
Liechtenstein's LGT bank group, which was named in press reports as a focus of the probes, said Saturday that it appeared the German authorities were working from client information stolen in 2002.
Spokesman Hans-Martin Uehlinger said the list would contain "several hundred names," adding, "we are going to warn all our clients who are on this list."
The bank thought that all the material had been returned but realized in 2007 that client data might have been "passed on illegally to third parties."
A finance ministry spokesman on Friday declined to comment on precisely who was under investigation, saying only that they were "known and unknown, especially people whose revenues are at the high end of the scale."
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, however, that no other board members of firms listed in the DAX, Germany's leading share index, were targeted.
The affair erupted after a prosecutor in the western city of Bochum announced that Deutsche Post head Klaus Zumwinkel was suspected of involvement in a case of tax fraud. Weekly Focus newsmagazine reported that Zumwinkel will pay a 4 million euro fine and cooperate with the authorities.