Acrimony dents chances of Swiss-German tax deal

Sun Aug 19, 2012 9:43am EDT
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ZURICH (Reuters) - The chances of any swift Swiss-German deal to counter tax evasion looked slim on Sunday after politicians traded criticism over efforts to limit the traditional secrecy of Swiss banks.

Swiss defense minister Ueli Maurer hit back at the leader of Germany's main opposition party SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, who said last Sunday that there had been "organized crime in Swiss banks" helping Germans avoid taxation.

"It is improper for a state to attack Switzerland or the Swiss banks in such a way," Maurer, the sole representative of Switzerland's far right SVP in the coalition government, told Swiss newspaper Sonntag.

Switzerland struck a deal with Germany in April to levy taxes on German assets in Swiss accounts, but the agreement could easily unravel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government says a tax deal could net Berlin huge sums if and when it takes effect. Germans hold an estimated 150 billion euros ($184 billion) in Swiss accounts.

Prosecutors in Germany's biggest state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), said last week they were pursuing tax evaders after obtaining new Swiss bank data from a presumed whistleblower, believed to come from within UBS. However, the bank said it has not yet found any evidence of a UBS source.

Germany's main opposition Social Democrats party (SPD), which governs in coalition with the Greens in NRW, has since promised to veto the tax deal in its current form while Switzerland has said there will be no renegotiations. The German government needs SPD backing for the deal in the upper house.

Andrea Nahles, the SDP's deputy party leader, said federal states in which her party ruled or was part of a ruling coalition would not agree to the deal: "The tax agreement with Switzerland is dead," she told Germany's Spiegel magazine on Sunday.

One of the SPD's main criticisms has been that the deal allows people to take their money out of Switzerland before it comes into effect.   Continued...