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TAX EVASION

Germany calls to ‘turn up heat’ on financial crimes

The German government on Monday said it hoped the revelations from the so-called "Panama Papers" will spur global efforts to combat tax evasion and money laundering.

Germany calls to 'turn up heat' on financial crimes
A view of skysrapers on the Panama City skyline. Photo: DPA

“We hope the current debate will turn up the heat,” finance ministry spokesman Martin Jäger told a news briefing.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has long been at the forefront of the worldwide fight against fraud and tax havens.

“We can harness this momentum and express the hope that restrictions will be imposed,” but such practices “cannot be abolished with a simple click of the fingers,” Jäger said.

The meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington next week will provide an opportunity to put the issue back on the agenda.

“And we will take the initiative in this direction,” Jäger pledged.

The Panama Papers are a massive leak of 11.5 million documents allegedly exposing the secret offshore dealings of a host of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars, implicating figures from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Barcelona striker Lionel Messi.

An investigation by more than 100 media groups, described as one of the largest such probes in history, revealed the hidden offshore assets of around 140 political figures.

The vast stash of records was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with media worldwide by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The documents, from around 214,000 offshore entities covering almost 40 years, came from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm with offices in more than 35 countries.

Closing the loopholes

Schäuble has spearheaded calls in recent years for increased international coordination to curb tax evasion and money laundering.

“We have made more progress in the past three years than in the previous three decades,” his spokesman Jäger said.

It was important to limit or close the loopholes still further and Schäuble's aim was to pursue that with great tenacity, he said.

“It is not by chance that we're already in talks with Panama.”

There were some countries in the world where “a lot of energy” was expended on enabling companies and wealthy individuals to get round the rules.

“But at the end of the day, these countries must understand that the models they choose have no future,” Jäger said.

Two German banks named in media reports as allegedly helping world leaders and celebrities hide money in offshore accounts denied any wrongdoing in the affair.

Deutsche Bank said in an emailed statement it had “enhanced” its procedures for taking on new clients “and verifying with whom we are doing business, and our policies, procedures and systems are designed to ensure that we comply with all applicable rules and regulations”.

A spokesman for Hamburg-based Berenberg Bank said the group's Swiss arm, Berenberg Bank (Schweiz) AG, “like many other banks, operates accounts for offshore companies”.

But these were all in line with legal regulations

A spokesman for the bank said its compliance procedures “are regularly reviewed by independent external auditors to ensure they are effective”.

SEE ALSO: German paper unveils biggest leak in history

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BAN

Frankfurt party organizers face hefty fine for flouting Easter dancing ban

It is one of Germany's more surprising laws that has led to protests throughout the years.

Frankfurt party organizers face hefty fine for flouting Easter dancing ban
There are restrictions on dancing in Germany during Easter. Photo: Depositphotos/pitangacherry

With restrictions varying across the country's 16 states, the dancing ban, or 'Tanzverbot', effectively bars public dancing on the Christian holiday. In some states, including Hesse, the ban lasts for more than one day.

Now authorities in Frankfurt, the biggest city in Hesse, have vowed to crack down on anyone who ignores the ban that’s in place from Thursday to Saturday, reported regional newspaper the Frankfurter Rundschau (FR).

According to the law in Hesse, a fine of up to €1000 can be handed out to anyone who puts on a public dance event, the spokesman for the Ordnungsamt, Ralph Rohr, told the FR.

One of the city’s mayors, Uwe Becker, of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), has called for residents to show respect for those who observe the religious Easter holiday, and not take part in any dancing.

“Even those who do not belong to a religion themselves should show respect for the feelings of others,” said the CDU politician who is head of the church department in Frankfurt.

The law in Hesse states that dancing in public is forbidden from 4am on Maundy Thursday until midnight on Holy Saturday, as well as on Sundays and public holidays from 4am until 12 noon.

According to Rohr, city police will conduct their usual checks during this time.

“If complaints are received, police will investigate them,” said the Ordnungsamt spokesman.

In response to the FR's question as to whether dancing would be stopped, Rohr said: “We will end what is not allowed.” Clubs will be contacted by authorities and warned in advance.

SEE ALSO: 10 ways to celebrate Easter in Germany like a local

Ban is contentious

As well as dancing, other activities are banned at Easter time, such as sporting events and gambling. The ban on dancing has led to protests across Germany throughout the years.

Centre-left Social Democrats politician Kevin Kühnert recently said the ban should be abolished. He said people should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to celebrate or not.  He told the Redaktionsnetzwerk that “anyone who wants to go to a disco that day should be able to do so.”

A protester at a demo in Stuttgart in 2015 holds placards that read: 'We dance when we want!' and 'Release the dance!' Photo: DPA

Not surprisingly, club capital Berlin is the most liberal state when it comes to upholding the silent public holiday, with the 'Tanzverbot' only in place from 4am to 9pm on Good Friday.

In the southern state of Bavaria, which is largely Catholic, the ban runs for 70 hours: from 2 am on Maundy Thursday until midnight on Holy Saturday. Penalties vary, but people who flout the law, which tends to be event organizers or club owners, risk fines of up to €1,500.

'Important gesture'

Meanwhile, in Frankfurt, Becker urged all citizens to comply with the legal regulation on Good Friday.

For many Christians it is deemed inappropriate to dance or celebrate during Holy Week – the seven days leading up to Easter Sunday. Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, is of particular importance. For Catholics, the day is traditionally meant for fasting and abstinence.

Becker said that not taking part in “loud and exuberant celebrations” is “an important gesture” that shows respect to “fellow human beings”.

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