Espionage case begins for Swiss bank spy accused of targeting tax fraud investigators in Frankfurt, Germany | News | DW | 18.10.2017
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Espionage case begins for Swiss bank spy accused of targeting tax fraud investigators in Frankfurt, Germany

Switzerland allegedly sent one of its spies to Germany to find out who kept leaking secret banking data to tax authorities. He spent four years digging into tax investigators and planting a mole before he was caught.

A Swiss man accused of spying on German tax authorities on behalf of Bern faced court in Frankfurt, the German financial capital, on Wednesday.

The 54-year-old has been charged with espionage for allegedly working to unmask the source of a trove of secret financial data, on a CD, purchased by a German state government in 2010. The administration in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) had used the information to crack down on German citizens concealing money in Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying taxes.

The Swiss government admitted in 2011 that its Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) was involved with an investigation into stolen data, but declined to comment further on the case.

NRW has spent €€17.9 million ($21.1 million) since 2010 to buy financial data, saying that it recovered nearly €7 billion in tax revenues as a result.

Read more: German 'James Bond' Werner Mauss gets two-year suspended sentence for tax evasion

Switzerland issues arrest warrant for German tax investigators

Watch video 26:01

Whistleblower - Alone against the System

Read more: Prosecutor investigates Swiss NDB for espionage in Germany

The Swiss man, identified only as Daniel M., was alleged to have spied on NRW tax authorities and some of their tax investigators from 2011 to 2015. According to Germany's federal prosecutor's office, he also gathered personal information on state tax investigators so they could be prosecuted in Switzerland for purchasing the tax data CDs.

After his alleged investigations, Switzerland issued arrest warrants for three NRW tax investigators for illegally obtaining banking data, which is protected under the country's strict secrecy laws. But they are actually unlikely to face arrest unless they travel to Switzerland.

A mole in the system

Read more: New Swiss spy found in German tax office

He allegedly contracted a German security firm to help his investigation and even placed a mole within NRW's tax authority. Prosecutors allege he was paid €€3,000 a month for his efforts, while also receiving €€13,000 for the personal details of tax officials, and was promised €€90,000 for placing a mole in the tax office.

Daniel M., a former policeman and a high-ranking security officer at Swiss banking giant UBS, was arrested in Frankfurt in April 2017.

Prosecutor offers deal for information

At the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht - OLG) in Frankfurt on Wednesday, Federal prosecutor Lienhard Weiss said he would agree to a suspended sentence of between 18 months and two years, plus a fine of €50,000 euros, in exchange for information.

"If there is a confession and the defendant makes plausible statements on the identity of the informant, then a plea ... would be imaginable," he said.

Daniel M. could face up to five years in jail if convicted of espionage on behalf of a foreign state.

The presiding judge said a suspended sentence could be in order, if Daniel M. gave a "credible" confession.

"We need concrete information on the ... payments, to whom they were made and for what," Judge Josef Bill said on Wednesday.

Daniel M.'s lawyer said he would make a statement when the trial continues on October 26.

Case has strained ties

Read more: Swiss-German row over tax evasion escalates

The espionage case has placed considerable strain on ties between Bern and Berlin, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rebuking the wealthy neighbor and summoning its envoy in light of the revelations. In 2015 Switzerland signed a deal with the European Union to exchange banking data starting in 2018 as part of an international pledge to clamp down on tax cheats, making the case especially embarrassing.

aw/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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