BERLIN (Reuters) — Revelations that
prominent Germans have for years hoarded cash in secret bank accounts
have prompted calls from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Social Democrat
(SPD) coalition partners for a clampdown on tax dodging.
Germany's front pages have been dominated by in recent days by
public confessions from feminist activist Alice Schwarzer and Berlin
city's Culture Minister Andre Schmitz about tax evasion.
These follow a scandal over Bayern Munich soccer club president Uli
Hoeness who is to stand trial for tax evasion in March, a case that
has shocked Germans and raised the pressure on Finance Minister
Wolfgang Schaeuble to act.
"If it becomes known that there are tax dodgers in the intellectual
establishment, it points to a much bigger number of unreported cases
than previously assumed," senior Social Democrat Thomas Oppermann
told Spiegel Online.
He said Germany should urgently step up its search for tax dodgers
and said he wanted to review and possibly change the system that
grants amnesty to people who report themselves.
"I expect the German government to actively push the subject of tax
evasion on all international levels, as agreed in the coalition
deal," said Oppermann, in comments echoed by other lawmakers.
The SPD has championed the fight against tax evasion and the
coalition deal with Merkel's conservatives states that the new
right-left government will push ahead with efforts to fight it. It
is, however, short on detail.
Schaeuble negotiated a tax deal with Switzerland in 2011 but the
SPD, then in opposition, blocked it, arguing it did not go far
enough as it would have protected the anonymity of German account
holders while imposing a tax on their assets.
That deal would have netted Germany tax revenues of 2 billion euros
or more, Merkel has said. Most of that would have gone to Germany's
The EU's six biggest countries agreed last year to work more closely
together to put pressure on tax havens.
In an effort to stop the Schmitz case damaging his party, SPD
Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany's vice-chancellor in
the coalition, made clear he would not tolerate dodgers even if they
"Representatives of the SPD must be role models," he said.
Schmitz, a close ally of SPD Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, said he
had "made a grave mistake which I very much regret" in not paying
taxes on a Swiss account.
The matter reflects badly on Wowereit, who knew that proceedings had
been initiated against Schmitz but then halted in 2012. The mayor is
already under pressure over lengthy delays and ballooning costs for Berlin's new airport.
Feminist Schwarzer, an anti-pornography campaigner seen by feminists
as a moral authority, made a statement on her website on Sunday
saying she had paid back 200,000 euros in taxes plus default
interest to the authorities for the last decade.
Some German states have bought CDs with tax data from Switzerland,
which has led to a surge in the number of people turning themselves
in and remaining unpunished.