The state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Hannelore Kraft, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that her government would continue pursuing suspected tax cheats, despite opposition from the federal government and individual parliamentarians in the region.
"Purchasing such data is legal. That has been decided by the highest legal authorities. We will therefore continue buying such data," Kraft said.
Kraft's full interview with Bild was set to be published in the Monday edition of the paper, with excerpts released ahead of time on Sunday.
Kraft's Social Democrats (SPD) govern NRW in coalition with the Greens, two parties that are in opposition on the federal level. They have purchased several CDs containing information on suspected tax evaders, usually sold by rogue employees or former employees of Swiss banks. The issue came to a head in 2010 when authorities raided several German branches of the Credit Suisse bank after purchasing such data.
Switzerland views the purchases as a violation of its banking privacy laws.
Bild also quoted Kraft as saying that the latest data purchase indicated that Swiss banks were advising their clients on how to ship their money to Asia before a bilateral tax deal between Germany and Switzerland comes into force. This would support previous media reports on the subject in Germany.
When governments collide
Chancellor Angela Merkel's federal coalition has brokered a tax deal with Switzerland that is due to come into force at the beginning of 2013. Under the deal, which may not get through the upper house of parliament due to the opposition's reservations, Germans parking their assets in Swiss banks would start paying 26.4 percent tax on these holdings plus a smaller, one-off charge on previous deposits.
"We are not against a tax deal in principle. We are against this tax deal," Kraft told Bild. "It's a fundamental question of equality. If this deal comes into force, German tax cheats would remain anonymous, pay less than honest taxpayers and get their unreported income laundered."
There is no precise data on the amount of money stashed away in Swiss banks by German residents, but some media reports have estimated the figure at 180 billion euros, around five percent of Germany's gross domestic product.
Four politicians from the fledgling pro-transparency Pirate Party on Friday filed a lawsuit against the state's finance minister, alleging that the purchase of the CDs violates Germany's data protection laws.
Out of the chancellor picture?
Kraft also told the paper that she would not seek the Social Democrat nomination for chancellor in the 2013 general elections, "because I promised before the [state] elections that I would remain state premier of NRW."
Kraft won reelection in May, in a vote more characterized by the implosion of Merkel's Christian Democrats than by the success of the SPD and the Greens. The vote led to the resignation of regional Christian Democrat leader Norbert Röttgen, who also lost his spot in Merkel's cabinet as federal environment minister within a matter of days.
The SPD has said that it will not announce its 2013 rival to Merkel, who does plan to stand again, until the beginning of the election year. The responsibility lies with party leader Sigmar Gabriel.
"Sigmar Gabriel will make a suggestion at the right moment. I really cannot understand all this excitement over the 'chancellor question' at this point in time," Kraft said.
Gabriel, Kraft, former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and the defeated 2009 candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are currently considered the front-runners for the nomination.
msh/jlw (AFP, dpa)