Officials from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have confirmed the purchase of a CD containing data on UBS bank clients, although UBS denies knowledge of the incident.
“UBS is not aware of having fallen victim to data theft,” UBS spokesman Andreas Kern told swissinfo.ch on Friday. “Information as to whether and which UBS clients are affected is therefore of a purely speculative nature.”
Reports of the transfer which first appeared on Thursday in Financial Times Deutschland have given new ammunition to German politicians opposing a tax deal between Germany and Switzerland.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s finance minister Norbert Walter-Borjans defended the alleged data purchase on the German radio programme Deutschlandfunk on Friday and called for continued full prosecution of Swiss bank clients evading German taxes. The German-Swiss tax deal that has been ratified by Bern – but not by Berlin – would apply an anonymous lump-sum taxation to German funds in Swiss bank accounts.
“It should not be possible that those who pay penalties on tax evasion should only have to pay a fraction of what the honest taxpayer would pay,” Walter-Borjans said on the radio programme.
The newspaper Financial Times Deutschland also reported Friday that Swiss banks have transferred some German clients’ funds to accounts in Singapore to further protect their identities, information that was also included on the CD allegedly purchased from UBS.
“UBS puts high priority on matters of security in general, and the protection of client privacy in particular,” Kern told swissinfo.ch. “We have not recorded any increased flow of assets to Singapore from Europe. UBS does not encourage or facilitate tax evasion.”
North Rhine-Westphalia has purchased stolen CDs containing bank data in the past, involving the Swiss banks Credit Suisse and Julius Bär and the Liechtenstein bank LGT. In 2010, German tax authorities reportedly recuperated €1.6 billion from tax evaders thanks to the purchase of stolen data.
In March, Swiss authorities issued arrest warrants for three German tax inspectors over the 2010 purchase of a stolen CD from Credit Suisse containing data on suspected tax evaders.
The German-Swiss tax accord, which has not yet been ratified by Germany, has been under threat after German opposition parties said it was too soft on tax evaders who had stashed an estimated SFr150 billion ($163 billion) in secret accounts.
Under the accord, effective from next year, existing funds in Swiss banks will be taxed at a rate of between 19 per cent and 34 per cent, based on how long the money has been stashed away and the rate of capital gains.
Future investment income and capital gains will be taxed at 26.375 per cent. However the states have stated they want that rate to be 35 per cent, comparable with German levels.
Swiss banks will pay SFr2 billion up front to Germany within 25 days of the deal being ratified. A provision prevents tax dodgers from moving their funds to another safe haven.