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BERLIN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s bank secrecy law has no place in the 21st century, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was on Friday quoted as saying.
In an interview to be published in Saturday’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Schaeuble defended Germany’s decision to buy stolen Swiss bank data to use against possible cross-border tax cheats.
“We’re going to have to come to a general exchange of data with Switzerland,” Schaeuble said. “Bank secrecy cannot be an instrument in the 21st century used to evade taxes.
“There’s no future for bank secrecy. It’s finished. It’s time has run out.”
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Friday that stolen data which Germany wants to buy may be worth up to 400 million euros ($549 million) in revenue, far more than previously thought. It said the government had estimated the sum based on a hundred samples authorities had obtained and investigated.
German media had previously reported that the sensitive client data, offered for sale by a whistleblower, contained information on up to 1,500 possible tax evaders and could lead to a 100 million euro boost for state coffers.
Schaeuble said he would meet his Swiss counterpart Hans-Rudolf Merz to discuss the issue even though both have different points of view. Switzerland has criticised Germany for moving to purchase the stolen data.
The announcement this week from top German politicians that they were ready to pay for the data shook Switzerland’s large private banking industry and the controversy could balloon into a diplomatic spat.
“We want to resolve the issue better to prevent having discussions like we’re having now,” Schaeuble said. “Switzerland will have to relax its bank secrecy.”
Germany paid for stolen data in 2008 when it purchased information stolen from Liechtenstein’s top bank LGT, forcing the tiny principality to give up bank secrecy rules.
Earlier on Friday the CEO of Swiss private bank Julius Baer BAER.VX said he had no indications that the stolen data stemmed from its accounts. Britain's HSBC HSBA.L declined to comment on Monday on reports that the data belonged to its clients.
Schaeuble also appealed on those who have evaded taxes in Germany to come clean before it is too late.
“I urge all those who have evaded taxes to turn themselves in,” he said, noting those who come clean before an investigation is launched can avoid criminal punishment by paying the unpaid tax and interest.
Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Patrick Graham
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