Switzerland and Germany Adversaries in Spy Drama


FRANKFURT — Tax collectors do not usually loom large in espionage thrillers, nor are Germany and Switzerland often portrayed as bitter adversaries in the spy game.

Yet those were the elements in a real life cloak and dagger drama revealed on Wednesday, when German prosecutors said they filed charges against a Swiss man accused of spying on tax collectors and even planting a mole in a local tax office.

The bizarre case marked the latest development in a long-running conflict between the two countries over Swiss banking secrecy laws, which Germany and other countries see as a means for the wealthy to dodge taxes.

German authorities have paid tens of millions of dollars in recent years for information that the Swiss government considers secret. The files allowed German tax officials to identify citizens who had secret bank accounts and unreported income in Switzerland.

More important, knowledge that tax authorities had the information prompted some 120,000 Germans to confess to tax evasion. German law grants leniency to tax cheats who turn themselves in. All told, German authorities collected roughly 7 billion euros, or $8.2 billion, in unpaid taxes.

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