Tax CDs bring billions for German state

DUESSELDORF, Germany, Sept 14 Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:37pm EDT

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DUESSELDORF, Germany, Sept 14 (Reuters) - The state of North-Rhine Westphalia has helped Germany recover more than 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) from German tax evaders after buying compact discs with details of Swiss bank accounts, according to the region's finance ministry.

The existence of the Swiss accounts has caused an uproar in Germany, where North Rhine Westphalia, the nation's most populous state, has so far bought CDs containing data on German clients of Credit Suisse and Julius Baer.

Clients of a Swiss unit of Merrill Lynch are also affected, financial sources said on Friday. Merrill Lynch was not immediately available for comment.

The state has paid around 10.3 million euros for six CDs since 2010, a spokeswoman for the region's finance ministry said on Friday.

Germany has promised to stop buying leaked bank data naming suspected tax cheats if a tax deal with Switzerland comes into force.

Switzerland and Germany struck a deal in April to levy taxes on the assets that Germans have stashed in Swiss accounts to avoid the taxman but the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) party, which controls North Rhine-Westphalia, has said it will block the plan in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, where the governing centre-right coalition has no majority.

Germans hold an estimated 150 billion euros in Swiss accounts.

Banking secrecy is key to Switzerland's $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry. It has refused an automatic exchange of information on account holders and is pursuing instead the strategy of a withholding tax to preserve secrecy.

($1 = 0.7606 euros) (Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; additional reporting by Victoria Bryan)

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