The German state of Rhineland-Palatinate has announced that it has bought a CD containing data on secret bank accounts in order to track down suspected tax evaders. It hopes to recover half a billion euros (CHF608 million) in unpaid tax.
It did not say who had sold the information, nor where the accounts were held. However, the Spiegel news magazine reported that it related to more than 10,000 Germans with accounts in Switzerland.
A spokesman for the Swiss finance ministry told the Reuters news agency that it would not have been necessary to purchase the CD if Germany had implemented the tax treaty it agreed with Switzerland last year. The treaty was blocked by the upper house of the German parliament, which is dominated by opposition parties.
"Data CDs can yield chance finds, at most, and do not clear the way for making sure everyone is taxed, as the treaty that was rejected would have done," the spokesman said.
"Switzerland will not provide any official help on the basis of stolen data," he added.
The agreement rejected by the German Senate aimed to legalise undeclared assets held by Germans in Swiss banks. It would have imposed a retroactive levy of up to 41 per cent on capital in offshore bank accounts and would have taxed future income from interest, but account holders would have remained anonymous.
Opponents of the deal argued that it was too weak.
News of the CD purchase came as the debate about tax evasion in Europe has been stepped up in the wake of the leaks about thousands of offshore accounts which appeared in the press earlier this month.
Carsten Kühl, the finance minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, which is run by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens, described the information on the CD as “authentic and of excellent quality". He said it contained 40,000 sets of data, and that the state had paid €4 million for it.
He said numerous raids had already taken place as a result of the information it had yielded.
In the past several German states have bought CDs with stolen data on accounts held in Swiss banks. In March 2012 Switzerland issued a warrant for the arrest of three German tax inspectors over the purchase of one such CD in 2010.
swissinfo.ch and agencies