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Punishing data purchases

September 1, 2012

Germany's justice minister has called for the criminalization of purchasing CDs that contain the information of tax evaders. Regional German officials have bought several such CDs in a bid to crack down on tax cheats.

Photo of CD next to a computer from Germany's finance ministry.
Deutschland Finanzamt Symbolbild Steuer CD BriefkastenImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger expressed her support on Saturday for legislation that would punish officials who purchase illegally obtained data of German tax cheats in Switzerland.

The finance ministry in the west German state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) has purchased multiple CDs containing the data of German citizens who park money in Switzerland to avoid paying taxes. NRW is currently governed by a center-left coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

Legislation criminalizing such purchases could potentially threaten regional NRW officials if they are still involved in the activity. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger backed the proposal of her colleague Jörg Uwe-Hahn, who serves as the justice minister in the state of Hessen.

Both are members of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which currently serves as the partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the coalition government at the federal level.

"I support my Hessen colleague Jörg-Uwe Hahn, who wants to bring about a legislative initiative to criminalize receiving illegally obtained data," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Saturday edition of the daily Rheinischen Post.

Several members of the upstart Pirate Party in NRW have filed a criminal complaint against the state finance minister, Norbert Walter-Borjans, over the CD purchases. Dirk Schatz, one of the Pirate Party members who filed the complaint, had argued that the data on the CDs is protected by bank privacy laws and was therefore obtained illegally.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP)
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger says the purchases jeopardize the treaty with SwitzerlandImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Treaty with Switzerland

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger criticized German state governments led by the center-left Social Democrats, such as NRW's, of holding up the implementation of a tax treaty with Switzerland by buying the tax CDs. The treaty has not yet been ratified.

"With the treaty we wanted to create a legal basis to combat tax evasion," the justice minister said. "I find it irresponsible that the Social Democrats and the Greens are letting the treaty fail for populist reasons."

Under the negotiated treaty, German citizens who have avoided taxes back home by moving their money to Swiss bank accounts can make a one time payment of between 21 to 41 percent and avoid prosecution. In the future, they would pay the German rate of 25 percent.

As a condition of the agreement, Germany had promised to stop purchasing CDs containing the information of tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts.

Many Social Democrats, however, support purchasing the CDs and oppose the treaty with Switzerland as too lenient on tax evaders.

"I support buying all the tax CDs that we can get our hands on," the premier of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, Torsten Albig, told the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

"They (CD purchases) send a signal: This society will turn on criminals who deprive it of money," the Social Democrat said.

slk/jr (AFP, dpa, dapd, Reuters)