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Tax evasion: Germany-Switzerland-Luxemburg 2011-2012

start 14.07.2012

October 2011: German Land North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) buys CD with customer data of a Luxembourg bank [1,2]

This CD lists data of 3000 german customers of the Luxembourg affiliate of the british HSBC Bank. Initially, charges were brought against a half dozen asset consultants* of the investment firm VM Vermögens-Management GmbH (which belongs to the business imperium of August von Finck, jr since 2008) of hiding untaxed money with HSBC Luxembourg. The rooms of the GmbH were searched. It is expected that about 1200 investigations will result from the 3000 sets of data.
*) These managers were previously employees of HSBC Trinkaus in Düsseldorf.
The NRW tax authorities do not appear interested in the HSBC Bank itself. In contrast, the US Justice Department and the Senate have been investigating the HSBC US affiliate because of international money laundering [9,11]. Could the NRW disinterest be a matter of political restraint, HSBC Trinkaus being a member of the German banking community . . ?

March 2012: Switzerland issues warrant against German tax inspectors [5]

In March 2012 Swiss federal authorities have issued an arrest warrant against three NRW tax inspectors. They are accused of economic espionage because they had negotiated the buying of a CD* in February 2010.
*) Contained account data of German customers of Credit Suisse.
German authorities are ignoring the warrant, and the NRW tax authority stands fully behind the accused inspectors.

Juli 2012: NRW buys CD with customer data of a Swiss bank after lengthy evaluation [3]

The Northrhine-Westphalia Financial Authorities have been offered a CD with data on 1000 German customers of the private Coutts Bank in Zürich, an affiliate of the Royal Bank of Scotland. After studying the data for 6 months, the authorities bought the CD in mid 2012 for €3.5 million.
This purchase has been criticized as an affront against the not yet ratified German-Swiss Tax Agreement (and against the Federal Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, one of the architects of this Agreement).

The Swiss Banking Union has demanded an immediate stop to the - in their words illegal - purchasing of stolen data.

"Returns" from the CD trade (probably incomplete) [1,3,6]

- a flood of tax self-indictments after every (potential) purchase: up to Oktober 2011 altogether 6000 bringing a tax revenue of €300 million,
- €150 million as global redemption/absolution from the Credit Suisse related to the CD purchase by NRW in February 2010 (see p.3),
- €50 million from the Julius Bär Bankhouse related to the same CD.
These "returns" were reached by "investments" of €2.5 million and €3.5 million.
The Tax Union DSTG estimates that the Luxembourg CD will bring €800-900 million in tax revenue.

DSTG estimates that german citizens have over time illegally transferred untaxed assets with a value of €130-180 billion alone to Switzerland, and further €100 billion in Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.

Conflicting viewpoints in the German-Swiss tax dispute [2,3,8,10]


Switzerland regards the purchase of data as an illicit act of - actively - receiving stolen goods, which makes the involved German tax employees liable and prosecutable.

The bilateral Agreement on cross-border tax matters forbids German tax authorities from actively laying hands on data concerning German customers of Swiss banks. Purchasing an offered CD is in Swiss eyes actively obtaining data.
In Germany the Agreement has not yet been ratified. The Swiss view is: as long as the Agreement has not been rejected, it must be adhered to (!)
I.e. currently no CD purchases are permitted (see contrasting NRW view below).


In germany opinion is divided:

- The Socialists and the Greens (among others), together with the man-on-the-street (the upper middle class and above excepted) are in favour of allowing tax authorities every viable means to retrieve evaded taxes. The inspectors' hands should not be shackled.
NRW views the purchase of offered CDs as a passive act. And sees the bilateral Agreement as not binding until it has been ratified. The Socialists intend blocking a ratification of the present text.

- The Conservatives and Liberals and the monetary upper class are against tax inspectors being allowed to search for evaded taxes outside the country, let alone purchase data of dubious origin*.
*) Interestingly, the first data CD was purchased in 2010 by a Conservative Finance Minister. The explanation for this 'unique' act as put forward by the current Secretary of State (conservative) in the Federal Finance Ministry is: "The 2010 purchase is justified because it had the goal of forcing Switzerland into negotiations over a bilateral Tax Agreement". This explanation is in line with the expressed standpoint of the Federal Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, when he says (here reformulated): "A few data purchases are quite OK, but it shouldn't become a habit".
Peculiar is that the Federal Finance Ministry was kept informed of the latest NRW CD purchase and apparently gave its assent.

Both camps avoid the term "illegal" when speaking of purchases of stolen data.
Sources [german, except 10]:

[1] Focus "SteuernSteuer-CD: Flut von Selbstanzeigen erwartet", 15.10.2011
[2] Süddeutsche "Auswertung von Daten-CD aus Luxemburg: Razzia bei Vermögensberatern", 16.10.2011
[3] Focus "Schäuble in der Kritik: Steuergewerkschaft fordert Kauf weiterer Daten-CDs", 18.10.2011
[4] Spiegel "Schweizer Bankdaten: NRW erwägt Kauf neuer Steuersünder-CD", 16.11.2011
[5] Focus "Streit wegen Ankauf von Steuer-CD: Schweizer suchen deutsche Steuerfahnder mit Haftbefehl", 31.03.2012
[6] FTD "Affront gegen Steuerabkommen: NRW kauft neue Steuer-CD aus der Schweiz", 13.07.2012
[7] Focus "Steuerdaten-CD-Kauf: Streit zwischen Deutschland und Schweiz droht zu eskalieren", 14.07.2012
[8] Westdeutscher Rundfunk "Reaktionen auf Bankdaten-CD: Schweiz - kein Verständnis für 'Staat als Hehler' ", 15.07.2012
[9] Wall Street Journal "HSBC Nears Pact in Launder Probe", 15.07.2012
[10] Westdeutscher Rundfunk "Regierung wehrt sich gegen Vorwürfe: Daten-Kauf artet in Grabenkämpfe aus ", 16.07.2012
[11] ARD Tagesschau "US-Senat wirft Großbank Geldwäsche vor: HSBC-Chefin gelobt Besserung - und feuert Manager", 18.07.2012


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