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Social parasites with Swiss bank accounts

The Local · 2 Feb 2010, 18:07

Published: 02 Feb 2010 18:07 GMT+01:00

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Robin Hood was a crook. But even today he remains a role model, a warrior for social equality. He took from the rich and gave to the poor – he was robbing for a higher purpose.

Is the information thief currently trying to sell the German Finance Ministry bank information on 1,500 tax dodgers a modern-day imitation of the mythical figure from Nottingham Forest? Somebody who’s helping the government reclaim money the rich have tried to keep from the common coffers? Certainly not – he’s not acting out of philanthropy. He’s acting out of greed – he wants €2.5 million for his CD of information.

But it’s still morally justifiable that the federal government quickly agreed to the deal. Even if the Swiss bank data was acquired illegally and German tax authorities became guilty of fencing ill-gotten gains: the uncomfortable transaction will help resolve serious misdeeds – on several levels.

Tax evasion is a crime against society. Anyone who hides their money in a foreign bank account keeps money away from the government that it now desperately needs to build streets, schools and theatres and fund teachers or even save troubled banks. These are all things from which tax thieves – usually among society’s most wealthy – profit.

So it’s right that government authorities do all they can to go after such socially irresponsible citizens when they receive tips. But that is rarely the case – as can be seen in this latest episode in Switzerland. The small Alpine country – as do all tax havens – supports the illegal activities of the tax dodgers with its holy bank secrecy laws. These help the Swiss commit and cover up a crimes committed elsewhere – for example, in Germany.

Buying illegally collected information has to be weighed against the massive affront to the principle of social equality – that everyone should contribute to the common good as best they are able. The choice is easy. Exposing massive tax evasion far outweighs the reward for the thief – and not just financially, but even morally.

The government does the same thing in other cases – it offers a reward for information about criminals even if the tip comes from shady sources. It offers key witnesses a reduced sentence or even amnesty – even in the most heinous of crimes. It even does undercover investigations if it’s the only way to prevent or solve a crime.

And what would happen if Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble turned down the offer? Wouldn’t he then – figuratively – be guilty of tax evasion himself because he left the well-heeled owners of Swiss bank accounts untouched? Wouldn’t that have only underlined the impression that the Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition only serves its own clientele when the going gets tough?

This is why the federal government didn’t hesitate in reaching an answer. Chancellor Merkel, who called Schäuble and pushed him to say ‘yes’, wasn’t interested in adding to a debate about the protection of tax evaders like former Deutsche Post CEO Klaus Zumwinkel to the coalition’s already mounting problems.

After all, the purchase of a CD with information about German customers of Liechtenstein’s LTG Bank two years ago, which cost Zumwinkel his job, showed that just the possibility that such a list could appear can bring wealthy tax dodgers to their senses. Out of fear of potential punishment (don’t forget you can get up to 10 years in Germany for severe offenses), many people are now turning themselves in and bringing money back home. If you don’t out yourself, you should expect a tough sentence.

It also increases the pressure on Switzerland to finally jettison its systematic protection of tax evaders. The United States is acting as a good example – they’re threatening to close UBS, a major Swiss bank, in America if the government in Bern doesn’t pony up reams of information on US tax dodgers. And the pressure is working. Switzerland is now a lot more cooperative than it was just years ago. It’s the same for other tax havens.

Story continues below…

Unlike his predecessor Peer Steinbrück, Wolfgang Schäuble doesn’t have to mount up and charge into Switzerland with the cavalry. But playing Robin Hood a tiny bit won’t simply pour €100 million or so into the Finance Ministry’s empty coffers. It will also show Switzerland that the booming business with foreign tax evaders can no longer rely on the country’s bank secrecy laws. And neither can the country’s German customers.

The walls of Swiss banks are becoming transparent, with the help of even shrewd data thieves. Honest taxpayers and those at the bottom end of the society can be grateful – the state doesn’t only react to welfare benefit fraud by investigating recipients in government housing. It also peers into the nation’s mansions.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Zeit Online, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:02 February 2, 2010 by heretic72
Yes, brilliant, let's create a snooping culture where everyone is allowed to break into computer systems, steal private information and sell it to the highest bidder. Instead of giving 2.5 million to a criminal, why doesn't the government use it to employ a team of people to find the tax dodgers themselves. Better yet, why don't they reform the tax and welfare system so that it incentivises people to make themselves rich while creating jobs and growing the economy, rather than tying entreprensurs up in red tape and rewarding thick, lazy people for staying at home and watching TV all day.

I do hope you haven't got any skeletons in your closet that you don't want the government to find out about Mr Greven....
07:01 February 3, 2010 by Hunt2871
My mama used to tell me that two wrongs do not make a right. It is strong testimony that a government, be it German or British or Kenyan, is akin to a heroin addict when it comes to getting its fix of tax revenue. Just like a common street junkie the German government (as would most govt.s I would think) have taken to a life of crime to facilitate its need. There is no difference in buying a stolen disc of information and a stolen television, except in this case it is the nations moral authority that is resorting to crime. What is next? Are German tax collectors going to be hidden in alleys, offering sex in exchange for tax information? That is the typical path for most junkies when they have been using so long that they can no longer rob and steal to get their next high. It is actually less of a moral gap between the average politician and the average street walker any way...and a big step up for the pol.
10:03 February 3, 2010 by So36
Greven is right that though not ideal paying the data thief is no different than a prosecutor cutting a deal with a criminal to stop more serious crimes. You seem to both be overlooking the countless rich thieves stealing from the rest of us by engaging in tax evasion. Personally I rather my kid have a decent school and playground and put money into public transportation than let some criminal keep his cash in a Swiss bank account.
00:07 February 4, 2010 by FrankinBechhofen
Sounds like an excellent idea. How do I get one of those Swiss accounts? Just because someone has a Swiss account does not mean they are thieves or tax evaders. Maybe they are thieves or maybe not, but the government should not encourage illegal activity for this nobel cause.

The data thief is the only crook here, but if he was smart he would ask payment in gold instead of euro. I'm sure his "reward" will be placed in a Swiss account anyway.
20:33 February 4, 2010 by rlayers
Perhaps it is nothing more than a poor choice of words, however, 70 years ago the leaders of Germany also referred to certain peoples as "Social Parasites"... to horrible results. I think words like "scofflaws", "cheats", etc. would be more appropriate.
13:37 February 5, 2010 by twisted
I have very little sympathy for the Swiss and banks of other countries that have hidden money for people to avoid taxes. In regard to the Swiss, do not forget how they tried,successfully for over 50 years, to hide funds that belonged to Jewish families. Swiss bankers are not the most honest people in the world. Again, no sympathy from me.
16:11 February 5, 2010 by ColinMz
So - governments take money from you (by force if necessary); and it is stealing or cheating to do what you can to stop them doing that. The reality is that those who cannot stop the governments taking their money would love to do so if they had the chance, and resent those who can.
16:23 February 6, 2010 by Eastard
I'm not sure about Germany, but most places around the globe use informants and they are generally not top shelf citizens. In the USA we have a whistle blower law protecting individuals from reprisal to encourage disclosure. The act of disclosing protected inside information can be taken as illegal (protected conversations). It does not look like the German government recruited the Swiss data thieft... they simply took advantage of it... Good show. Paying for information is normal and the sum of payment is normally related to the booty found. The Swiss have known for generations what they were doing from the unquestionable financial success. It has been until recently a nich'e tollerated because of their sovernity... The USA began to open this Camen Islands Bank in Europe years ago... Surely other countrys were to follow...This is a good topic needing strong debate... I for one believe that criminals should not be afforded special rights... The data itself does not make the money criminal... only the non-disclosure. There is nothing about the thieft that caused anyone in Germany to do anything illegal...It was 100% the individuals choices to take the risk of being caught...
08:13 February 9, 2010 by mday100
This idea that Taxes are one´s moral obligation presumes that the tax laws themselves are fair and equitable which is in itself totally false. It´s also a false assumption to assume that all tax evaders are wealthy. Let´s take the Church Tax for instance which apparently is an old 3rd Reich tax used to keep the churches quiet. This tax is far from fair. As well, is it fair for hard working indivuals to bear the brunt of social costs while so many lazy ass self-entitled people refuse to get of their ass and take jobs which might not exactly fit their preconceived qualifications. If Germany´s tax system was more fair, people would have to go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves financially.
21:02 February 11, 2010 by abemarch
The only reason to have a tax haven is to avoid paying taxes. Are they good citizens? Do they pay their fair share?

The problem is whether the tax system is fair. If it were fair, people would not try to avoid paying excessive taxes. What about all the people who work for Schwarz Geld? Local contractors will give a Rechnung for part of the bill to keep up appearances and then the rest in Cash. If the taxes were less, and severe penalties made for violaters, the government would collect more tax revenues. As long as taxes are unfair, people will devise means to cheat the system.
03:49 February 13, 2010 by PhotosByStephan
The author's opening anecdote shows he misunderstands the story of Robin Hood. Robin Hood stole from the King's tax collectors and returned the money to the taxpayer. Under this analysis, he was a libertarian working to bring about smaller government.
18:05 February 15, 2010 by lordwilliams629
You people who protest these people are a bunch of communist parasites, it's their money not yours, they worked for it, your the parasites who would like to hands on it, typical freeloaders.
08:04 February 16, 2010 by Joshontour
#11 You said it before I got a chance to. That is absolutely correct. It is however, completley expectable for a Local reporter to make that kind of mistake.
02:12 February 17, 2010 by Fredfeldman
If there is anyone freeloading its the elite proportion of people who have good paying jobs. There are lots of able folks who would love to have those jobs and its only by keeping those folks unemployed that the german economy survives.
13:36 February 17, 2010 by lordwilliams629
That fredfeldman is stalinist, since when is somebody who works for their own money a freeloader, so with your communist way of thinking fred those who wash dishes for a living are not freeloaders, yet those who went to college and have good jobs need to give you and any other bum who didn't work for it some of their money. So how much of their money should they give to people(bums)like you who never worked for it, what percent should you and your communist freeloaders get, oh should they also be allowed to have a new car, or house, or are those things that should be bought for the communist state.
16:46 February 17, 2010 by Kylerk
parasite n: 1 : a person who exploits the hospitality of the rich and earns welcome by flattery 2 : an organism living in, with, or on another organism in parasitism 3 : something that resembles a biological parasite in dependence on something else for existence or support without making a useful or adequate return

It seems to me that the people you are mistakenly referring to as "parasites" - are actually the ones who you look upon to feed the real parasites in society. For some strange reason - the fact that they resist is offensive to you. I bet you also have a hard time understanding why Obamanomics is failing miserably here in the States. The answer is simple - no one likes to be robbed, not even Robin Hood.
23:36 February 17, 2010 by Fredfeldman
@ lordwilliams So the folks who wash society's dishes and are constrained from ever enjoying a nice house or car should be excluded from the good life because they couldn't afford or weren't smart enough for a college degree? Of course they should be content with providing you and the upper classes with a cushy existence. To my mind the guys doing the dish washing should be making a lot more than the guys having a ball in the boardroom screwing their secretaries.
22:13 March 14, 2010 by dbert4
" I bet you also have a hard time understanding why Obamanomics is failing miserably here in the States. The answer is simple - no one likes to be robbed, not even Robin Hood. "

What a tool you are! It is BUSHonomics that failed in the States, you were robbed by Goldman-Sachs, AIG and Lehman Bros collapsing the world economy.

I'm sure that you willing bend over for ever Capitalistic, lets get rich scheme. Yet to pay taxes which you probably don't earn enough to have to pay anyway is robbing you?

I'm sure that you were/are an enthusiastic supporter of that boy moron's GW Bush's wars, war cost money!
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