By FRANK JORDANS
BERLIN (AP) — German authorities launched dawn raids on the homes of over 200 suspected tax cheats Tuesday, acting on information gleaned from a CD containing the confidential account details of thousands of Swiss bank clients.
The top tax officials in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate said he expected to net some 500 million euros ($654 million) from the data, which German investigators bought for €4 million ($5.2 million) after deeming it "authentic and of excellent quality."
"This amount is testament to the high criminal energy used to hide capital gains," Carsten Kuehl, the state's finance minister, said in a statement.
Kuehl didn't say who had sold the CD containing the data or which Swiss banks were involved in the case.
But prosecutors in the western city of Koblenz said Tuesday they had opened an investigation against unknown employees of Credit Suisse AG and its subsidiaries Clariden Leu AG and Neue Aargauer Bank. The probe focuses on whether the bank employees helped clients evade taxes and was sparked by the contents of the CD, said prosecutors.
Credit Suisse said it was unaware of the existence of a "tax CD" or a legal investigation against its staff.
Spokesman Marc Dosch said the bank has been warning its German customers for some time to resolve any outstanding tax issues.
"If that doesn't happen we will cut off those clients in the course of the year," Dosch told The Associated Press.
He noted that Credit Suisse came to an agreement with German authorities in 2011 to pay 150 million euros to end tax evasion proceedings against the bank.
Germany has for years been aggressively pursuing people who hide money abroad. But while some of Germany's 16 states have resorted to buying confidential bank data, the country's federal government has been trying to sign an agreement with Switzerland to solve the issue of tax evasion once and for all. Opposition parties have so far blocked the deal, arguing that it amounts to an amnesty for German clients of Swiss banks.
Switzerland and its banks, meanwhile, have condemned the practice of buying account information as tantamount to encouraging theft. Swiss banking secrecy is among the strictest in the world, with harsh penalties for those who break it.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.