| BERLIN, March 31
BERLIN, March 31 Switzerland has issued arrest
warrants for three German civil servants it has accused of
industrial espionage by purchasing the bank details of German
tax evaders, the finance ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia
(NRW) state said on Saturday.
In the latest chapter of an ugly dispute over tax evasion
that has strained ties between Germany and its southern
neighbour, a spokeswoman for the NRW finance ministry confirmed
a report about the warrants due to appear in Sunday's Bild am
The tax collectors could be arrested if they cross the
border into Switzerland, the newspaper said.
"There is a concrete suspicion that specific orders from
Germany were issued to use espionage to obtain information from
Credit Suisse," the Swiss attorney general said in a statement.
"The attorney general has asked German authorities for
Hannelore Kraft, state premier of Germany's most populous
region, told Bild am Sonntag she was appalled by the warrants.
"It's an outrage," said Kraft, who is seeking re-election in
a vote on May 13. "The NRW tax investigators were simply doing
their job tracking down German tax dodgers who stashed
undeclared money in Swiss banks."
Several German states, including NRW, said in 2010 they had
bought compact discs containing Swiss bank data from
whistleblowers as part of a drive to flush out tax evaders. That
prompted thousands of Germans to declare their financial
holdings to avoid risking jail terms.
The federal government gave state authorities the go-ahead
to buy the information even if it was obtained illegally.
Germans have an estimated 150 billion Swiss francs ($200
billion) hidden in secret Swiss accounts.
Germany and Switzerland were working to salvage a landmark
deal to tax secret offshore accounts at the weekend after
Germany's main opposition party raised 11th hour objections to a
compromise plan it said was full of loopholes. Chancellor Angela
Merkel's centre-right coalition needs the backing of
SPD-controlled states to push the tax deal through the Bundesrat
upper house, but so far SPD state premiers have said concessions
offered by Switzerland do not go far enough.
The pact that would protect Switzerland's tradition of
banking secrecy in return for a punitive Swiss-levied tax on
Switzerland's strict bank secrecy code has helped it build a
$2 trillion offshore financial sector, but it has faced growing
international pressure in recent years as foreign governments
seek to claw back tax revenues and be seen as being tough on the
super rich in the wake of the global financial crisis.
(Additional reporting By Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf and
Katie Reid in Zurich; Editing by Ben Harding)