ZURICH - On Tuesday, the Bloomberg news agency ran a story about whistle-blowers at two Swiss banks who are said to have handed over client data to British tax authorities. With more details of that story to come, details have now emerged about an earlier watershed case: when information about Credit Suisse bank's German account holders was secretly sold to investigators.

In October 2009, former German Minister of Finance Peer Steinbrück, speaking at a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), uttered words that outraged the Swiss: “Switzerland offers conditions that invite German taxpayers to evade taxes,” he said, adding that "If the carrot doesn't work, we'll use the stick."

According to Steinbrück, Switzerland belonged on the OECD’s international tax haven blacklist for refusing to provide information on German citizens evading taxes. “That is the problem,” he stated.

But on that same day, somebody else was busy writing a fax message – somebody prepared to use “the stick” to tackle the problem, and expecting a significant amount of “carrots” for doing so. This person was writing to German authorities to offer up data about German clients of Credit Suisse -- for a fee, of course.

The person sent the fax to the finance department in Wuppertal-Barmen, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where some federal tax investigators that he’d already met in cloak-and-dagger meetings were based.

“Hello Mr. R.” read the fax. “Does your Finance Minister want to know about our high-quality data?” The fax was signed “M. Weber.” The man behind the pseudonym was an Austrian man living in Switzerland. "Weber" later killed himself while in pretrial detention in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Among other things, the case against the Austrian whistle-blower and his accomplice, who worked at Credit Suisse, sought to establish what had happened to the money he received from the German government for his “high-quality data.” Swiss federal prosecutors also extended their case to include the three German tax investigators. This time, it was the turn of the Germans to be outraged.

The two leading German players were “Mr. R.” and his boss, Peter Beckhoff, head of the Tax Office for Criminal Tax Matters and Tax Investigation in Wuppertal. Among the charges brought against them by Swiss investigators was the violation of Swiss banking secrecy laws.

Coded messages and secret meetings

Swiss investigators were able to get their hands on both the mobile phones and computers of “M. Weber” and the Credit Suisse data thief, which contained proof that the Nordrhein-Westfalen civil servants had issued concrete orders to spy on the bank. The Germans never actually met the Credit Suisse employee, but there are indications of indirect manipulation.

According to federal prosecutors, the bank employee testified that he had received “special orders” from “Weber.” In June 2008, he got a text message asking for the “entry dates of the different types of Panini images” which according to him was a coded way of saying that “Weber” wanted him to provide the dates that certain accounts were opened.

Listed in the middleman’s agenda was also a May 2009 “concept meeting for detergent” at the Kronen Hotel in Stuttgart. All three Nordrhein-Westfalen investigators now in Swiss crosshairs were present at the meeting.

“Weber” was paid 2.5 million euros for information about 1,106 German Credit Suisse account holders, many of whom were indeed tax evaders.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Credit Suisse