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CRIME

Swiss-German tax deal falls through

The tax agreement between Germany and Switzerland, meant to resolve a dispute over German fortunes kept in Swiss banks, has been blocked by the centre-left opposition, who say the proposal is unfair.

Swiss-German tax deal falls through
Photo: DPA

The agreement was scuppered on Wednesday after negotiations between the two chambers of the German parliament – the Bundestag and the Bundesrat – broke down in a parliamentary mediation committee.

The Bundestag, controlled by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition, had voted in favour of the bill, but it was blocked by the Bundesrat, where a centre-left alliance of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens holds sway.

The opposition threw the deal out, arguing that it was too lenient on tax evaders.

Under the terms of the agreement, which would have come into effect on January 1, Germans who have parked undeclared assets in Swiss bank accounts would have been able to regularise their holdings while retaining their anonymity.

Swiss banks would have deducted taxes from German clients and transferred the tax revenues to Berlin, allowing the clients to remain anonymous. It was meant to negate the need to buy stolen bank account data from clandestine sources, which many German regional tax offices had resorted to over the past few years.

The mediation committee passed a declaration calling on the government to begin new negotiations “for a fair tax agreement.”

Bundestag MP Thomas Strobl, of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said it had been “a difficult session.”

The SPD and the Green Party cast doubt on government estimates that the deal would bring in up to €10 billion of tax revenue in 2013 alone. The opposition also criticized the fact that German tax evaders would still have had the chance to get their fortunes out of Switzerland by January 1, 2013.

The Swiss legislature had already passed the agreement, and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, President of the Swiss Confederation and head of the Finance Department, expressed regret that Germany had not ratified the deal.

She said the failure meant that “the unsatisfactory status quo with chance finds of illegally appropriated CDs” would have to be maintained for now.

Berlin and Bern have been embroiled in a spat over tax since 2010, when German authorities raided branches of Credit Suisse bank in 13 German cities after buying data on suspected tax frauds.

Switzerland reacted angrily, saying the data were stolen in violation of its banking secrecy laws.

As much as €180 billion in German assets are hidden in Switzerland, according to unconfirmed media reports.

The Local/AFP/DAPD/DPA/bk

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CRIME

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

A 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard on Monday once again denied being complicit in war crimes during the Holocaust as his trial drew to a close in Germany.

101-year-old former Nazi guard pleads innocent in German trial

Josef Schütz, the oldest person so far to face trial over Nazi crimes during World War II, is accused of involvement in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, has pleaded innocent throughout the trial, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said again at the close of the proceedings, his voice wavering.

Dressed in a grey shirt and pyjama bottoms and sitting in a wheelchair, Schütz insisted he had had nothing to do with the atrocities and was “telling the truth”.

READ ALSO: Ex-Nazi death camp secretary who fled trial to face court in Germany

Prosecutors say he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the crimes as a guard at the camp and are seeking to punish him with five years behind bars.

But Schütz’s lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, said that since there were no photographs of him wearing an SS uniform, the case was based on “hints” of his possible involvement.

“As early as 1973, investigators had information about him but did not pursue him. At the time, witnesses could have been heard but now they are all dead or no longer able to speak,” Waterkamp said.

Former Nazi guard

The 101-year-old former Nazi guard covers his face at the Neuruppin courthouse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

It would be a mistake for the court to try to “make up for the mistakes of a previous generation of judges”, the lawyer said.

Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, told AFP Schuetz “does not want to remember”, calling it “a form of defence”.

The trial was not just about “putting a centenarian in prison”, he said. It had also produced evidence that Sachsenhausen was an “experimental extermination camp”.

“All the cruellest methods were invented there and then exported,” Grumbach said.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

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