Swiss officials defend alleged spying on German tax-fraud investigators

SwitzerlandSenior Swiss government officials, including the defense minister and the director of the country’s intelligence agency, have defended Switzerland’s right to spy on European tax-fraud investigators who meddle in Swiss affairs. Earlier this week, German authorities announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to German officials and media reports, the man, identified only as Daniel M., is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence organization.

As intelNews reported on Monday, Daniel M. was said to be monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. In the past decade, German authorities have paid nearly $100 million to employees of Swiss banks in return for information about the identities of German bank account holders in the small alpine country. The Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information, a practice that goes against Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws. On Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, summoned Switzerland’s ambassador to Germany, Christine Schraner Burgener, to the Foreign Ministry, in order discuss Daniel M.’s arrest. A press statement that the Foreign Ministry sent on Tuesday to the German media said that the meeting had been called “in the interest of German-Swiss friendship”.

But the Swiss do not appear to be interested in discussing. On Tuesday, Markus Seiler, Director of the NDB, defended his agency’s right to spy on anyone who “uses illegal methods in Switzerland to steal state or business secrets”. Seiler, who was speaking in Bern, classified all such practices as espionage targeting the the Swiss economy. Asked by reporters whether Daniel M. was an NDB employee, Seiler said he could not comment. But he defended the NDB’s right to “fight the theft of business secrets” and “uphold Swiss laws”. He also refused to specify whether the NDB is active in Germany, stating instead that the agency is “active at home and abroad”. Switzerland’s Minister of Defense, Guy Parmelin, who supervises the NDB’s activities, was equally general when asked to discuss the arrest of Daniel M. He said simply that he and other Swiss government officials had to “protect [the NDB’s] methods and sources”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2017 | Permalink

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Germany arrests Swiss spy who was monitoring tax-fraud investigators

Frankfurt AirportAuthorities in Germany have announced the arrest of a Swiss national who was allegedly spying on the activities of German tax-fraud investigators in Frankfurt. According to prosecutors in the German state of Hesse, of which Frankfurt is the largest city, the Swiss man was arrested on Friday and is currently in custody. He has been identified only as Daniel M., and is believed to be in his mid-50s. According to news reports, German counterintelligence officers had been monitoring the suspect for over a year. They were issued a warrant for his arrest in December of last year, but waited until he was on German soil to arrest him. He was arrested at Frankfurt Airport.

German federal prosecutors said simply that Daniel M. was employed in the financial and banking sectors of Germany until early 2012. However after that time, he is believed to have been employed by “the intelligence service of a foreign power”. German officials refused to identify the “foreign power”. However, the Berlin-based German newspaper Die Welt said on Sunday that the Swiss man arrested on Friday is an employee of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service. The agency, known by its German-language initials, NDB, is Switzerland’s main intelligence agency, tasked with safeguarding the security of the small alpine nation by collecting and analyzing information.

The question is, what was a Swiss spy doing in Germany, and why was he arrested? According to Die Welt, Daniel M. was monitoring the activities of German tax-fraud investigators who have been trying for years to stop German citizens from having secret bank accounts abroad. The German government believes that billions of euros are deposited by its citizens in banking institutions in European tax-havens like Liechtenstein, Switzerland or Monaco. For the past decade, German authorities have resorted to bribing whistleblowers in offshore banks in order to acquire internal documents that reveal the identities of German citizens who are hiding their money in foreign bank accounts. It is estimated that over a hundred million dollars have been paid to whistleblowers by German authorities since 2006. The latter argue that the proceeds collected from unpaid taxes and fines more than justify the payments made out to whistleblowers. But the Swiss government has strongly criticized Berlin for encouraging Swiss banking sector employees to steal internal corporate information that often breaks Switzerland’s stringent privacy laws.

It is believed that Daniel M. was arrested while monitoring efforts by German tax-fraud investigators to approach potential whistleblowers working in the Swiss banking sector. Soon after the Swiss man’s arrest, officers from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) searched a hotel room, several apartments and a number of business premises in Frankfurt and nearby cities. It is worth noting that Frankfurt is a major global financial center, which also hosts the headquarters of the European Central Bank. If found guilty, Daniel M. could face up to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 May 2017 | Permalink

Germany’s most famous spy on trial for tax evasion, claims money is not his

Werner MaussThe most famous intelligence operative in Germany went on trial last week after his name was linked to dozens of offshore bank accounts and shell companies. But he claims he used these accounts to rescue hostages as part of his undercover work. Werner Mauss became known in 1997, when he was arrested in Colombia while using a forged passport. He had traveled to the Latin American country to secure the release of a German woman who had been kidnapped by leftist guerrillas. The Colombian authorities eventually released him, following heavy diplomatic pressure from the German government. But the German media began investigating his background, and it soon became known that he was working for the Federal Intelligence Service, specializing in negotiating the release of hostages.

Now, in his mid-70s, Mauss enjoys celebrity status in Germany. He claims on his personal website that he was directly involved in neutralizing over 100 criminal gangs and that his work led to the capture of 2,000 criminals and spies. He also claims to have helped prevent dangerous chemical substances from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

Last Monday, however, Mauss appeared in court in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Bochum, accused of placing millions of euros in undeclared offshore accounts. The German state prosecutor accuses the spy of having dozens of accounts in his name in offshore tax havens such as the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Panama. Government investigators say Mauss hid nearly €15 million (approximately $23 million) in secret accounts between 2002 and 2013. It appears that at least some of the accounts had been opened under aliases that Mauss used during his spy operations.

According to reports in the German media, Mauss first appeared on the government’s radar several years ago, when investigators in North Rhine-Westphalia purchased a CD from a whistleblower who worked in Luxembourg’s UBS bank. Earlier this year, Mauss’ name appeared again, this time in the so-called Panama papers, the massive data leak of documents belonging to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca that specialized in offshore wealth management.

According to his lawyers, Mauss did nothing wrong, and claims that he used the shell companies and offshore bank accounts to channel funds to kidnappers in order to secure the release of hostages. Mauss’ legal team also claims that the 76-year-old former spy cannot properly defend himself because he is prevented from speaking freely by the clandestine nature of his work for the government. It is believed that the trial will continue until the end of this year.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 3 October 2016 | Permalink

Analysis: The security implications of the Panama Papers

First Post HAside from their immediate shock value, the Panama Papers reveal the enormous extent of tax evasion on a worldwide scale. This unprecedented phenomenon is inextricably tied with broader trends in globalized finance-capitalism that directly threaten the very survival of the postwar welfare state. National intelligence agencies must begin to view offshore tax evasion as an existential threat to the security of organized government and need to augment their economic role as part of their overall mission to protect and secure law-abiding citizens.

THE BACKGROUND OF THE LEAK

The source of the Panama Papers leak —the largest in history— is apparently a single individual who contacted the widely respected German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung over a year ago. After receiving assurances that his or her anonymity would be safeguarded, the source proceeded to provide the paper with what eventually amounted to over 11.5 million files. They include company emails, banking transaction records, and files of clients that span the years 1977 to 2015. The source asked for no financial compensation or other form of reimbursement in return, saying only that he or she wanted to “make these crimes public”.

Faced with the largest data leak in recorded history, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reporters contacted the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which is the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. With ICIJ acting as an umbrella group, the German reporters were eventually joined by 370 journalists representing 100 news outlets from 76 Q Quotecountries. On Sunday, following a year-long analysis of the data, the reporting partners began publishing revelations from the Panama Papers, and say they will continue to do so for several days to come.

THE ROLE OF MOSSACK FONSECA

The documents are from the internal records of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm headquartered in Panama City, Panama, with offices in 42 countries. The company is one of the world’s most prolific registrars and administrators of shell companies in offshore locations. It has created more than 300,000 shell companies throughout its history, most of them in offshore tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, or Guernsey. Its clients are offered the ability to incorporate a generic-sounding company and headquarter it in an offshore tax haven. In exchange for an annual fee, Mossack Fonseca provides the company with a sham director and shareholders, thus concealing the true owner and actual beneficiary of the business.

The power of the leaked documents is that they reveal the actual owners of 214,000 offshore shell companies managed by Mossack Fonseca. The long list of names includes dozens of current and former heads of state, as well as hundreds of politicians, public figures and celebrities. Many of these individuals have failed to declare their earnings from their shell companies in their annual tax Q Quotestatements, which means they have not been paying taxes in their country of citizenship or residency. Thus, there are now thousands of Mossack Fonseca clients in over 100 countries who are preparing to face the legal consequences of tax evasion.

SECURITY IMPLICATIONS

Equally importantly, however, the leaked documents reveal that Mossack Fonseca’s clients appear to include at least 33 individuals and companies that are involved in organized crime or have close contacts with terrorist organizations. This sheds light on the increasingly disappearing line that once separated illicit activities such as tax avoidance and tax evasion, from money laundering, organized crime and terrorism. This phenomenon is assisted by unscrupulous companies like Mossack Fonseca, which act as anonymizing platforms for wealthy celebrities, criminals and terrorists alike.

The leak also shows the extent to which national governments have been unable to stem the tide of unfettered finance-capitalism, which today threatens the stability and cohesion of developed and developing economies alike. Moreover, the sheer scale of offshore capital funds, which, according to one expert, amount to as much as $32 trillion, threaten the economic security of nation states and must be viewed as an existential threat to the ability of states to fund public expenditures though taxation. The political arrangement that led to the creation of the postwar welfare state is today being directly threatened by the inability or unwillingness of organized states to monitor the largely unregulated flow of capital to offshore tax havens.

Today, entire economies, including much of southern Europe, the Balkans, as well as Latin America, are crumbling under the fiscal weight created by mass-scale tax evasion and organized crime. Organized criminals are now actively working closely with the banking sector, thus creating even more opportunities for money laundering and other financial illegality on an unprecedented scale. The Süddeutsche Zeitung revelations demonstrate that the line that separates legitimate economic activity from the rogue underbelly of global capitalism is exceedingly thin. It is high time that Western intelligence agencies viewed this worrying development as an asymmetrical threat against the security of law-abiding societies and began dealing with offshore tax havens with the same intensity that they have displayed against terrorist safe havens since 9/11.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 April 2016 | Permalink

Swiss parliament halts US tax deal following CIA espionage claims

Swiss National Council chamberBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lower house of the Swiss parliament has voted to stop considering a legislation designed to help the United States identify tax evaders, just days after a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee revealed an espionage operation targeting a Swiss bank executive. The legislation, which was drafted by the government of Switzerland, is aimed at addressing demands by Washington for Swiss banks to turn over to US authorities the identities of American tax dodgers. It is believed that tens of thousands of wealthy Americans manage to evade their tax obligations each year by exploiting strict Swiss banking privacy laws, which effectively shield them from US internal revenue authorities. The legislation has already been approved by the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly (the Council of States), but it needs to be cleared by the lower house (the National Council) before it can be officially enacted. Interestingly, the legislation was halted in the lower house just days after American intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a US espionage operation aimed at recruiting a Swiss bank official. Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA, disclosed the existence of PRISM, a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). In addition to PRISM, Snowden, 29, spoke about a CIA operation in 2007, when he was allegedly stationed under diplomatic cover at the CIA station in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #628 (analysis edition)

Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer

►►Should intelligence agencies chase tax evaders? Three years ago, Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, paid a whistleblower close to $7 million for DVDs containing information on thousands of secret accounts at a leading Liechtenstein bank. The discs contained data on 4,527 Liechtenstein foundations and financial entities, 1,400 of which were owned by Germans. But should a spy agency like the BND take part in the unglamorous and politically charged business of collecting information on tax cheats?
►►UK ex-spy chief says Google makes spies work harder. The rise of the web and Google means Britain’s spies have to work harder to produce genuinely secret intelligence, according to Sir David Pepper, the former director of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency. He said “the Google effect” of so much information being readily available online had “very substantially” raised the “threshold for producing intelligence” for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
►►Ex-CIA official says America ‘creates its own enemies’. Americans are in the crosshairs of terrorists worldwide purely due to Washington’s policy in the Muslim world, according to former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who spoke to Russia Today. Scheuer, author of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, worked for the CIA for over 20 years and at one time was the chief of the agency’s ‘Bin Laden unit’.

Analysis: An Economic Security Role for European Spy Agencies?

Economic espionage

Economic spying

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last February, Spain’s intelligence service began investigating alleged suspicious efforts by foreign financial speculators to destabilize the Spanish economy. According to newspaper El País, the Spanish government asked the country’s Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) to probe links between speculative moves in world financial markets and a series of damaging editorials “in the Anglo-Saxon media”. There are indications that the National Intelligence Service of Greece (EYP) is following in the CNI’s footsteps. In February, when Athens and Brussels began to realize the magnitude of the financial crisis threatening the European common currency, several news outlets suggested that the EYP was cooperating with Spanish, Irish and Portuguese intelligence services in investigating a series of coordinated speculative attacks on money markets, most of which allegedly originated from London and Washington. Read more of this post