German data grab to tackle tax evasion

City A.M. Reporter
Germany should do everything in its power to obtain data to fight tax evasion, Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday after a whistleblower offered to sell German authorities secret Swiss bank data.

The informant is understood to have offered data of up to 1,500 possible tax evaders with accounts in Switzerland which could lead to €100m for state coffers.

“Everything should be done to get this data,” Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin. “We should aim to acquire this data if it is relevant (to fighting tax evasion).”
The case could ignite a fresh tax row between Germany and Switzerland. Top Swiss politicians, including
President Doris Leuthard, and bankers warned Germany against acquiring the data.

A spokesman for the German Finance Ministry said the country was in principle willing to purchase bank data on suspected tax evaders even if the information was obtained illegally.

“The decision will be based on the line that was established with the Liechtenstein case in 2008,” a spokesman said. In this case, Germany purchased stolen data from an informant about clients of Liechtenstein’s main bank
LGT, prompting a huge investigation into tax evasion. The case snared former Deutsche Post chief Klaus
Zumwinkel, who was given a suspended jail term for evading nearly €1m in taxes using a Liechtenstein trust.

Offer said it was the responsibility of individual German states to decide what to do with such data, in cooperation with the federal government. He said the authorities were seeking to quickly clarify legal issues surrounding the case.

Shares in Swiss bank UBS were hit, chiefly due to comments by the country’s justice minister about the risk to the Swiss economy should the bank’s settlement of a US tax dispute unravel.

However, traders said fears Germany was considering buying data on bank accounts in Switzerland was also hitting the stock.