Reports: German tax agents target Coutts clients
BERLIN—German tax authorities have purchased confidential information about clients of British private bank Coutts to check if they were hiding money in Switzerland, German media reported Saturday.
Financial Times Deutschland and Der Spiegel, citing anonymous sources, said that officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia paid (EURO)3.5 million ($4.26 million) for a CD containing the names of some 1,000 rich Germans who had accounts with Coutts in Zurich.
Coutts, which is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and has served as banker to Britain's royals since the 18th century, said it was aware of reports about the leak of its client information.
"Following thorough investigation, we have no evidence to suggest any such breach has taken place," Coutts spokeswoman Susan Tether said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.
"We take the protection of client data extremely seriously," she added.
Tax authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia didn't immediately respond to emails and calls for confirmation. But the state has previously purchased other CDs containing client names of Swiss-based banks that led to tax evasion probes against hundreds of German taxpayers. It was not clear from whom the information would have been purchased.
The purchase of stolen bank information by Germany has irked Switzerland, which responded last year by issuing arrest warrants for three German tax officials.
A treaty between the two countries to end the tax spat is being blocked by opposition-controlled German states such as North Rhine-Westphalia.
State officials say the agreement would allow tax evaders who hid money in Switzerland to escape the heavy prison sentences they could face back home in Germany by simply paying a fine. Tax evasion is deeply frowned upon in Germany, where perpetrators are described as "tax sinners."