A Swiss man on trial in Frankfurt has been found guilty of spying on the tax authorities of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). ‘Daniel M.’ was handed a suspended sentence of 22 months and a fine of €40,000 (CHF46,600).
The verdict brings to a premature end the twists and turns of a case that brought scrutiny on Swiss-German diplomatic relations since the arrest of the 54-year-old in April this year.
The man, known only as Daniel M., was accused of having placed a mole within the tax authority of the German state, in order to pinpoint for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) the inspectors that were tracking German clients of Swiss banks.
The former police officer, security expert and private detective admitted to having undertaken missions on behalf of the FIS – for which he was paid €28,000 (CHF32,500) – but denied that any mole had been placed.
He confessed to having hired another Frankfurt-based private detective to do the snooping for names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the German tax officials, but that the inside source – the “fly on the wall” – was never successfully placed.
“I am certain now that there never was [a mole],” he said in October. I am ashamed, this business is very embarrassing.”
He also said that his motivations for taking on the job were “patriotism, a desire for adventure, a pursuit of profit, and outrage”, a narrative that was strongly pushed by his lawyers during the trial.
No jail time
The sentence falls somewhere in between the demands from prosecutors, who wanted a jail sentence of up to two years, and those of the defence, who asked for 18 months.
Daniel M. avoided having to go behind bars after agreeing some weeks ago to reveal details of his espionage activities, which he undertook during a period of nearly four years up to February 2015.
It happened at a time of heightened tensions between Germany and Switzerland surrounding tax evasion. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the German authorities – most notably the state of North Rhine-Westphalia - spent millions of euros buying data stolen from Swiss banks that revealed the names of thousands of clients.
The case of Daniel M. has triggered outrage in Germany but the Swiss authorities have defended their efforts to combat the theft of business secrets.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/dos