Bundestag talks tax evasion amid Hoeness drama | News | DW | 24.04.2013
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Bundestag talks tax evasion amid Hoeness drama

German parliamentarians have debated laws on tax evasion, prompted by the case of Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness. The opposition is seeking changes to rules on retroactively dealing with outstanding taxes.

Debate in Berlin on Wednesday turned to the issue of tax evasion, and specifically German laws on what happens to people who voluntarily file corrected tax returns. The most recent, high-profile example is president of Bayern Munich football club, Uli Hoeness.

Several leading opposition figures are looking to change laws that currently can allow people to avoid criminal culpability if they are deemed to have paid sufficient back-taxes, with interest on top, to make up for what was lacking in previous tax returns. The leading opposition figures, however, said that such a change would only be possible over time.

"I could imagine that as we become more successful in the battle against tax evasion one should be able to do without this [legal] instrument," Social Democrat candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD. Steinbrück said that the amnesty offered to people had its benefits at the present moment.

Steinbrück said it was important that people "must be able to wipe the slate clean," because this also helped the government generate more tax revenue. However, he also mooted the idea of some kind of upper limit, "above which no removal of criminal culpability would then be possible."

Trading barbs

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats, said in the parliamentary debate that fault lay with the opposition for rejecting a bilateral Swiss-German deal for people with assets in Swiss banks. In the high profile case of Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich president had said he initially planned to settle his tax issues under the terms of this deal, which was thrown out of the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, in December.

"We made an attempt with a tax law that would have made for a higher rate of tax returns than those of 90 percent of the culpability-clearing voluntary disclosures," Schäuble said of the deal, which was ratified in Switzerland.

Some in the opposition also sought to suggest complicity between the dominant Bavarian CSU arm of the Christian Democrats and Uli Hoeness, claims that CSU politician and German finance committee member Hans Michelbach on Wednesday called "sordid, brash and outrageous," saying Hoeness was neither a member of the CSU nor a donor to the party.

January submission, March arrest, April publication

Hoeness first went public last Saturday, saying he had filed an amended tax return in January in connection "to an account of mine in Switzerland." On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily and then German news agency DPA reported that Hoeness was briefly arrested on March 20, after he submitted the re-calculated returns, and was then released in exchange for bail of 5 million euros ($6.5 million).

Even amid the estimated 37-million-euro signing of German international star Mario Götze from rivals Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich's 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in Tuesday's Champions League semifinals, Hoeness has remained on the front and back pages across Germany.

With the issue of tax evasion already a party-political football ahead of September's federal elections, and the release earlier in April of the so-called "Offshore Leaks" list of as many as 130,000 potential tax evaders, such revelations from one of the biggest names at Germany's most successful football club have put the issue squarely on top of the political agenda in Berlin.

msh/hc (dpa, Reuters)