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Top banker tries to explain his "Nazi" comment

Mirabaud's remarks seem to fall short of an apology Keystone

The Swiss Bankers Association says its chairman "regrets the impression that could have been made" by a remark linking Germany's intelligence agency with the Gestapo.

This content was published on February 22, 2008 - 11:56

Private banker Pierre Mirabaud drew a comparison between how the intelligence agency – the Bundesnachrichtendienst – was now cracking down on tax evaders and the secret police of the Nazis.

His remarks came in an interview with French-language television on Wednesday.

Mirabaud was asked whether Swiss bank employees could be tempted to disclose information, after Germany admitted to paying for client records stolen from a Liechtenstein bank.

"These are methods which are a little reminiscent of the methods of the Gestapo," Mirabaud said in response.

Last week, German prosecutors announced a far-reaching investigation into tax evasion, targeting up to 1,000 people suspected of putting their money in Liechtenstein, Switzerland's neighbour.

Regret

"Pierre Mirabaud regrets the impression that could have been conveyed when he talked about Gestapo methods in relation to the German intelligence service," a statement from the SBA said.

"He only meant to express his uneasiness about such methods being used by intelligence services against friendly states," it added.

The statement does not mention the word "apology".

Switzerland has not been the target of the German investigations and relations with Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel are "almost harmonious", Mirabaud also said in the television interview.

"It's a relation of strength and we know above all that the ultimate goal is to win a bit of the cake, of which Switzerland has an enviable and envied portion," he said.

LGT bank

According to German government officials, the German intelligence agency paid €4.2 million (SFr6.78 million) for information about more than 700 clients of Liechtenstein's LGT bank in early 2006 and passed the data to the tax authorities, according to German government officials.

Mirabaud's comments follow the claim by Crown Prince Alois of Liechtenstein that Germany was mounting an "attack" on his country.

He referred to the German intelligence agency's acquisition of a DVD containing the account details as "fencing stolen goods on a massive scale".

Earlier this week, Merkel urged Liechtenstein to crack down on fraud.

Liechtenstein is one of only three countries on the tax haven black list of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; the others are Andorra and Monaco.

Crown Prince Alois has signalled that the principality will make efforts to make its banking system more transparent.

swissinfo with agencies

German tax scandal

A large scale investigation into alleged tax evasion was launched in Germany this month after the country's intelligence service paid €5 million (SFr8 million) for confidential banking records relating to a wealth management group in Liechtenstein.

The records, containing details of German customers, were stolen from Vaduz-based LGT Treuhand in 2002.

On February 14, Deutsche Post boss Klaus Zumwinkel was arrested and charged with tax evasion. He later resigned from his position.

On Tuesday, a Munich branch of Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS, was raided by investigators. They said the bank itself was not under suspicion, but they were seeking evidence on a client.

Liechtenstein has protested at Germany's use of stolen banking details. Crown Prince Alois has threatened to take legal action against Germany.

The principality's Prime Minister Otmar Hasler met German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the issue on Wednesday. Merkel called on the principality to show greater cooperation with the OECD in preventing tax fraud.

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