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Suspected Swiss spy indicted in Germany

North Rhine-Westphalia s finance minister Norbert Walter-Borjans
North Rhine-Westphalia's finance minister Norbert Walter-Borjans Keystone

German prosecutors indicted a Swiss man on espionage charges in a case involving alleged spying on German tax officials, authorities in Karlsruhe, Germany said on Wednesday.

The politically charged case focuses on a 54-year-old man identified only as Daniel M. because of German privacy rules. He is suspected of working for Switzerland’s NDB intelligence agency to identify tax investigators from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia that were involved in the purchase of confidential Swiss bank client data.

In 2010, the German authorities paid €2.5 million for a list of 1,500 names stolen from a Swiss bank in an effort to catch tax cheats. Over the past decade, the government of North-Rhine Westphalia has bought at least 11 CDs with data about Germans with bank accounts in Switzerland.

According to German prosecutors, Daniel M. was ordered by Switzerland in July 2011 to obtain information on the German investigation in connection with the purchase of CDs.

After obtaining personal data on three tax inspectors of the state, the defendant recruited a source of information from the tax administration there.

In April, Daniel M. was arrested in Frankfurt on suspicion of spying for “a foreign power” since the start of 2012. Several living and business quarters were searched in Frankfurt and the surrounding area, prosecutors said. He was placed in remand custody after a hearing at the German Federal High Court.

The Swiss foreign ministry has declined to provide details about the case, citing data protection reasons.

Big repercussions

In the past few years there have been various cases of secret Swiss bank data saved to CDs that were subsequently sold or given to various countries by whistleblowers. The most infamous case is the HSBC Geneva private bank records that were handed to French authorities and passed on to other countries by then French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Last year, Swiss authorities charged a former UBS banker on suspicion of selling confidential client details to Germany in 2012. The defendant’s name was withheld. The allegations centre on the sale of a CD in 2012 to North Rhine-Westphalia containing details of UBS customers with assets worth CHF3.5 billion ($3.6 billion).

UBS is one of several Swiss banks that got caught up in European investigations into personal tax evasion. It paid almost $300 million in 2014 to settle claims it helped wealthy Germans dodge taxes.

The North Rhine-Westphalia case concerns citizens of seven European countries. In April 2016, it gave 27 European nations stolen bank records of Swiss accounts containing more than CHF100 million in funds.

Some 100,000 tax dodgers have come forward in Germany as a result of the data getting into the hands of the authorities.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR