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Tax evasion: Germany-Switzerland 2010

start: 09.04.2010

Background: The Swiss banking(customer)privacy policy [1] ...

- exists since the early 1930s,
- is, together with the political stability, one of the main reasons why Switzerland attracted large amounts of foreign black capital over the last 80 years,
- has up to the present day repeatedly been the cause of tensions between Switzerland and the surrounding Europe, but also with the USA and Canada.
- From the Swiss point of view, it is the bank customers that are protected, not the banks themselves.

February 2010: CD purchase on the grey market [2, 7]

Three CDs containing Swiss bank account data of possible german tax evaders were offered by an unknown source to government authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia (1500 accounts of the Credit Suisse), Baden-Württemberg (2000 accounts), and Bavaria (? accounts).
The authorities in NRW bought their CD for €2.5 million, the government in B-W turned down a purchase, but offered the CD to other prospective buyers. Bavaria is, after a lengthy period, still undecided.

In buying such CDs, does the government become guilty of receiving stolen goods? [3]

The Swiss defence minister Ueli Maurer and his colleagues, and the german commissioner for data protection, as well as a number of private persons see the government as trader with stolen goods, if it were to procure such data CDs.
But according to the Berlin professor in criminal law Alexander Ignor (TV/Tagesspiegel 02.02.2010), data and goods belong to different categories. Therefore he rules out the idea of the authorities trading stolen goods. In his view, a purchase of these CDs does violate the law on unfair competition. Bank data are considered as trade secrets, and as such, this law protects them. The question is, is this what the law-makers intended? Is it not more plausible, that the term trade secret refers to legal objects, and not to data that are the result of a criminal action?
Is a state that has been damaged by an original deed forced to protect the information in connection with this deed against itself, and accord the function of clearing up and penalizing a low priority?
The Federation of Criminal Investigation Officials (BDK) is waitung for a clarification from the politicians. This was already due after the identical situation two years ago.

Not buying means foregoing the opportunity to gain on the order of €1 billion rightful tax revenue, and propagates the message that the wealthy are treated more favourably than the rest of the population.

Self-indictment [3, 4, 7]

§ 370 of the german revenue code (AO) lists indictable tax declaration offences.
§ 371 states that if the revenue office has not yet discovered a particular offence (or if the tax evader has reason to believe that the revenue office is not yet on his scent), then the tax evader may correct all his false declarations, pay the resulting sum (including accumulated 6% interest), and not be liable for indictment.
Cases have been reported in which the bank gave their customers a warning that the authorities are likely to contact him, as an integral part of the service offered by the bank. There are even cases in which the taxation department itself gave people a tip that it would be better if he/she would opt for self-indictment because of certain information in their possession.

This business with the bad conscience can be compared to the medieval selling of indulgences: repent - pay - and your sins will be forgiven (the absolution nowadays being granted by the holy department of revenue).

About 10000 tax evaders have indicted themselves since the appearance of the first (2010) CD. They were encouraged to do so by the finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. It is estimated that the revenue department will gain in the order of €600 million from these.

The Swiss banking lobby in uproar [5, 6]

Switzerland has requested the identity of the data thieves from Bavaria, B-Würtemberg and NRW.
At the emotional climax of the current affair, the president of the Swiss Volkspartei spoke of a "declaration of war". Some politicians in Bern threatened to pass a law that would exclude foreigners holding public offices (politicians, higher public servants) from the banking data protection regulation.

The investigation gets under way [7]

The middle of March marked the begin of individual investigations and premises searches, both of 1100 customers of the Credit Suisse and of bank employees, the latter because of aiding/abeting.

[1] wiki "Banking in Switzerland: banking privacy"
[2] Wirtschafts Woche [german] "Steuer-CD soll dem Fiskus 400 Millionen Euro bringen"
[3] Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter "Datendiebstahl, Datenkauf, Verteidigungsfall, Hehlerei, Whistleblower - oder einfach nur ein politisches Versäumnis?", 02.02.2010
[4] SZ [german] "Steuerhinterziehung: Die erfolgreichste CD der Welt", 03.02.2010
[5] Bild [german] "Steuer-CD: Schweiz droht deutschen Politikern"
[6] NY Times "Battle Over Tax Data Heats Up Between Switzerland and Germany", 15.02.2010
[7] SZ [german] "Nach dem Kauf der Daten-CD Tausendfache Steuerfahndung", 19.03.2010


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