Swiss tax spy receives suspended fine for economic espionage

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) handed Daniel M. a two-year suspended fine of CHF18,000, together with CHF45,000 in federal legal costs in an indictment dated November 1. © Keystone / Anthony Anex

A Swiss man who had previously been found guilty of spying on a German tax authority in 2017 has received a suspended fine in Switzerland for attempted economic espionage, Swiss media have reported. 

This content was published on December 17, 2021 minutes

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) handed Daniel M. a two-year suspended fine of CHF18,000, together with CHF45,000 in federal legal costs in an indictment dated November 1. The news was initially revealed by Swiss public radio RTSExternal link on Thursday and later confirmed by the Swiss News Agency Keystone-SDA. 

Since 2014, the federal prosecutor's office has been investigating the 58-year-old private detective, a former spy for the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) from 2011-2015, in an economic espionage case.  

Between the summer 2014 and February 2015, at the request of a German journalist, Daniel M. collected banking data of the former director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, August Hanning, on alleged accounts in Switzerland, the Swiss penal order stated. 

The Swiss man had hired and paid a security specialist to find out information about Hanning's banking business. He thought he had succeeded. But his source gave him three documents with information that turned out to be false. 

Unsuspecting, Daniel M. passed the documents to the German journalist, who paid him €150,000 (CHF157,000). The money actually came from a fourth protagonist in this case, a former German private detective, who then indirectly informed the Swiss justice system.

For the Swiss attorney general’s office, this was an attempt at economic espionage, regardless of whether the documents were forgeries. The prosecutor’s office was unable to determine whether Daniel M. knew whether the information he had provided would end up in the hands of the journalist or in those of a foreign official service or a private company. 

Charges against the other defendants in this case - the journalist, the security expert and the German detective – were dismissed. 

Previous high-profile case 

Daniel M. had previously been caught up in a high-profile espionage activity related to so-called tax CDs with data on suspected tax dodgers keeping money in Swiss banks. 

He was arrested in Germany in April 2017 before being sentenced by a Frankfurt court to a suspended sentence of 22 months and a fine of €40,000 (CHF46,600). 

He was accused of having placed a mole within the tax authorities of North Rhine-Westphalia to pinpoint for the FIS the inspectors working on cases of German tax evaders in Switzerland. 

He revealed details of his mission but denied successfully planting a ‘fly on the wall’.

The case 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. triggered outrage in Germany but the Swiss authorities defended their efforts to combat the theft of business secrets.  

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