RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
NPR's business news starts with a banking battle.
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MONTAGNE: Switzerland and Germany are involved in a major banking dispute - it involves cross border tax evaders, banking secrecy laws and stolen data. Germany wants to catch tax cheats who are keeping their money in Swiss banks and use pilfered data to do their sleuthing. That has the Swiss crying foul.
From Berlin, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Two years ago, German authorities bought stolen information on bank clients in the tiny Alpine principality of Liechtenstein from an informant. That helped German authorities collect several hundred million euros from tax evaders. Germany's now set to try to do the same with bank data from Switzerland, famous for its massive private banking industry. The Swiss are outraged.
Lawmaker Pirmin Bischof called it a new form of bank robbery. The Swiss finance minister on Wednesday said the country wanted talks with Berlin on the tax issue but not if they're based on illegally obtained data.
Last year, Switzerland agreed to ease its strict rules on client privacy. Swiss courts haven't always agreed. There's an ongoing major tax dispute with the U.S. over Americans hiding money with Swiss banking giant UBS.
James Nason with the Swiss Bankers Association says Germany risks undermining cooperation on lifting banking secrecy if Berlin persists with what he calls skullduggery and dirty dealing.
Mr. JAMES NASON (Head of International Communications, Swiss Bankers Association): These negotiations have been going on to set up these legal procedures to handle such incidents requests for information and tax matters, and at the same time Switzerland is being stabbed in the back by this offer to reward a criminal, you know, for the data that he has stolen from a Swiss bank.
WESTERVELT: But one government's thief may be another's whistleblower. It's estimated the German citizens have some 100 billion euros in Swiss bank accounts. The government thinks it might be able to collect the equivalent of nearly $300 million from tax cheats. A German finance ministry spokesman cited the Liechtenstein case as precedent and strongly suggested the government is determined to buy the data.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week indicated as much.
Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through Translator) Just like any reasonable person, I am naturally in favor of punishing tax evasion. In order to do this, everything should be done to get a hold of this data.
WESTERVELT: Now other European countries may be lining up behind Germany. The Austrian, Dutch and Belgian governments are now reportedly expressing interest in the tax data, even if it's obtained by less than legal means.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin.
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