1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Top German feminist in tax spat

February 2, 2014

One of Germany's leading feminists, Alice Schwarzer, has admitted that she held a Swiss bank account since the 1980s. The confession followed a report in Spiegel, which Schwarzer called "character assassination."

Alice Schwarzer
Image: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Alice Schwarzer - leading German feminist, writer and publisher of the German political women's magazine EMMA - accused news magazine Spiegel on Sunday of trying to damage her reputation by reporting on her recent payment - "a six-figure sum" - in back taxes to the German tax revenue office. The Spiegel article had been published earlier in the day.

In an online statement on her website, the prominent German feminist admitted to disclosing her Swiss bank account to German tax authorities this year and subsequently paying 200,000 euros ($270,000) plus default interest. She said she had opened the account in the 1980s and had wired taxed earnings to it over the years without paying taxes on the accumulated interest.

"The [Swiss bank] account was a mistake," Schwarzer said. "Everything is legal now. I'm not one of the thousands with unreported earnings [hidden away] in a Switzerland."

'I made a mistake'

"Yes, I made a mistake, I was negligent…[but] my taxes have been paid," Schwarzer said in her statement, with the title "On private matters," on her website. Given the status of her taxes, Schwarzer said she now had "the right to privacy and secrecy in tax matters."

The well-known German feminist said she had opened the account at a time when she felt the public uproar over her feminist views was so strong that she had begun considering leaving the country. A foreign account with secure money was there for her "peace of mind."

The issue of tax havens topped headlines in Germany last year with the release of "Offshore Leaks" - a series of reports on over 100,000 alleged tax dodgers across the globe - as well as revelations of tax evasion by Uli Hoeness, the president of Bayern Munich football club. A failed attempt by Merkel's previous government to reach a bilateral agreement with Switzerland, rejected in the upper house of German parliament by the Social Democrats for not going far enough, had also dominated the headlines at the end of 2012.

German law provides immunity from prosecution to those who voluntarily disclose and repay previously unreported taxes. According to a recent report by German news daily Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, the number of people taking advantage of the immunity law tripled in 2013 as tax evasion came into the national spotlight.

'Character assassination'

The women's rights champion furthermore accused Spiegel of acting in the interest of those who might want to hurt her reputation because of her vehement public opposition to big money makers, such as prostitution - the EMMA magazine's current feature topic. She also cited a German law called "Ehegattensplitting," which allows married couples - and now same-sex partners after a Constitutional Court order - to pool their combined incomes when paying income taxes. Schwarzer described this as a way that the state subsidizes "housewife-marriages."

"There are mistakes you can't fix. Character assassination, for example. Not filing your taxes properly however, as in my case, is one that can be fixed…and that's exactly what I did," she said.

Spiegel subsequently printed her response to its report, but has not admitted to any mistake on its part for reporting her story.

kms/msh (Reuters, dpa)