Germany targets Swiss tax ‘spies’
German prosecutors have reportedly launched an investigation into three people from Switzerland’s intelligence services on suspicion that they have spied on German tax officials.
Switzerland, whose banking secrecy laws make it a traditional refuge for tax avoidance, is accused of attempting to identify German tax investigators working on a probe into Swiss banks.
According to German media reports, the probe launched in early August was highly unusual between western allies and underlines how seriously Germany was taking the case.
One Swiss national, known under German privacy laws as “Daniel M, 54”, who reportedly works for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (NDB), was earlier charged with espionage.
Daniel M was arrested in Frankfurt while apparently procuring personal information about the German tax authorities for the NDB.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and two public-service broadcasters, NDR and WDR, reported that sources said the three new people identified by prosecutors were also NDB agents.
The three were not named and the German federal prosecutor’s office declined to comment.
According to the German media, Daniel M’s apparent mission was to find German tax investigators involved in purchasing stolen data on German residents who kept their money illegally in Switzerland.
Since 2006 state-level German tax investigators have bought hard drives and USB sticks containing private data leaked from Swiss banks via Switzerland or Liechtenstein, which have identified German tax cheats.
Switzerland issued arrest warrants for German tax inspectors but Berlin said it would not comply with the requests.
Meanwhile, Switzerland needed to have good trading relations with the European Union and it began to realise that banking secrecy was no longer the economic advantage it may once have been.
The process has led to a number of public apologies by wealthy Germans who have illegally kept their money overseas.
Daniel M’s alleged mission was to identify the German tax inspectors working on the anti-tax dodging project.
He is being held in Mannheim in southwest Germany. The alleged agent was once a police officer in Zurich and a security specialist for Swiss banking giant UBS.
Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has called the disagreement “incredible” and warned it could “wreck” bilateral ties. He said he would hold discussions with his Swiss counterpart Didier Burkhalter.
Switzerland claims its monitoring of Germany’s tax authorities stopped in 2014.
Zurich in the unlikely spying hub of Switzerland. Picture credit: Wikimedia