German state buys Swiss bank data in tax evasion crackdown | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.02.2010
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German state buys Swiss bank data in tax evasion crackdown

The western German state of North-Rhine Westphalia has confirmed buying a CD with information on German tax evaders in Switzerland days before the finance ministers from both countries are set to meet on the issue.

CD with Swiss flag symbol

Swiss banking secrecy has caused a spat with Germany

A spokeswoman for the North Rhine-Westphalia state government said it had received the data on Friday, February 26, but declined to reveal how much had been paid for the exchange.

German magazine Focus disclosed in early February that North Rhine-Westphalia state officials were negotiating a purchase of data on 1,500 German clients of Swiss banks from a whistleblower in France, who reportedly asked for some 2.5 million euros (US$3.4 million).

Meanwhile, officials from the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Friday said they would not buy the bank data, and that they would leave the decision up to the federal government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for the sale, saying the benefit of recovering millions of euros in back-taxes outweighs the moral dilemma of paying for stolen information. But the federal finance ministry said it would not buy the data, instead offering advice and assistance for states that would choose to go through with the purchase.

Recovered money

Wolfgang Schaeuble

Schaeuble is to meet his Swiss counterpart next week

Germany requires its citizens to declare all their income worldwide, but an estimated 200 billion euros are hidden by Germans in Swiss bank accounts, known for their traditional privacy.

Since the offer to sell the information first made headlines earlier this year, about 5,900 Germans have turned themselves in for tax evasion, according to Dieter Ondracek, head of the German financial authorities' trade union DSTG. Ondracek said that could help the government recover 500 million euros of lost taxes.

"If we get a signal from the politicians that it'll only be possible for people to come clean this year, then we could have another 5,000 doing so with corresponding additional revenues," he told news agency Reuters. "Then a billion euros could be possible."

Government meetings

The tax data row has caused tension between the Swiss and German governments. Switzerland has spoken against buying the data, saying the seller broke Swiss law and should not be rewarded. Germany has expressed frustration with their southern neighbor's secretive tax laws, which seem to invite Germans to break their own laws and hide their income.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is scheduled to host his Swiss counterpart Hans-Rudolf Merz in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss a new dual taxation agreement. The Swiss government also announced on Thursday that it would no longer accept untaxed income in its banks.

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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