Merkel Risks Fight on Swiss Bank Data
Germany's centre-right government is considering paying an informant €2.5 million for data on alleged tax evaders in Switzerland, a move the Alpine country slammed as illegal.
"Our goal is to get possession of this data, if it is relevant," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference on Monday (1 February), after debating the issue in her cabinet over the week-end, Spiegel Online reports.
The disk offered to the German government for €2.5 million contains data on some 1,300 taxpayers allegedly hiding their wealth in Swiss bank accounts, protected by Switzerland's bank secrecy laws.
According to Financial Times Deutschland, the data comes from an IT specialist of the British HSBC Private Bank (HBC) in Geneva. He already offered similar information to French authorities last August.
The German government is now looking at legal ways to acquire the data, finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said in a separate briefing. A decision would then be taken by the respective federal states in agreement with Berlin.
He said the government would pursue the same "line" as in 2007, when a similar acquisition of secret bank data in Liechtenstein was made. The deal proved lucrative for German tax authorities: some €180 million were recovered by the end of last year.
Another €100 million are estimated to be recovered from the Swiss affair, but at the expense of worsening diplomatic relations with the Alpine country.
The Swiss authorities reacted quickly, saying that there would be no co-operation in any investigation based on stolen data. Political parties across the board slammed the move as "dealing with stolen goods."
Swiss Liberals said the pressing need for budget revenues could not justify abandoning the rule of law, while Christian-Democrat Pirmin Bischof compared it to a "modern form of bank robbery."
"We expect Germany not to buy this data, but to arrest the criminals who broke the law in Switzerland and to return the data," Thomas Sutter from the Swiss banking association told German TV channel ZDF.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called on the neighbouring state to co-operate in fighting tax evasion. Himself a Liberal, he tried to strike a more cautious tone, however, stressing the need for all privacy and legal issues to be respected before buying it.
Even within Ms Merkel's Bavarian sister party, the Christian-Social Union, several politicians expressed doubt about the move. Bavaria's interior minister Joachim Herrmann told DPA that it would excessive, since acquisition of such data can only be justified in serious cases, such as murder.
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