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Swiss prosecutors charge Germans with industrial espionage – report

BERLIN/ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss prosecutors are charging three Germans with industrial espionage and violating bank secrecy, a media report said on Tuesday, potentially stoking a simmering dispute between Germany and Switzerland.

Zurich prosecutors allege the individuals passed documents to German courts and authorities, several Swiss and German media reported, in the latest twist to a row pitting Switzerland’s long-defended bank secrecy laws against a German tax clampdown.

The issue should be examined by the German government, said Lothar Binder, the financial policy spokesman for the Social Democrats in the German parliament.

“We need to ask what the legal basis the Swiss government is following here,” he told the media groups behind the report. “Perhaps they are trying to set an example to deter others.”

The Zurich prosecutor’s office was not immediately available for comment, while a German foreign ministry official said it was familiar with the case but that it does not comment on ongoing judicial processes.

The Swiss justice ministry had empowered the Zurich state prosecutor to investigate the three people on possible charges of industrial espionage in 2015, the media report by German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, the Correctiv research group, German broadcaster ZDF and Swiss digital magazine Republik, said.

The report, a summary of which was released to German media, said the three individuals – a Stuttgart-based attorney for Mueller and two bank employees – have denied the charges.

German states have for years obtained details of bank accounts held secretly in Switzerland by Germans they say are trying to evade tax. Swiss authorities say this amounts to the theft of business secrets.

The Swiss Banking Act requires employees of Swiss-regulated banks to keep client information confidential, but a number of staff have leaked account details to foreign authorities in the past decade as Western governments crack down on tax evasion.

Such whistleblowers and new disclosure standards have proven costly for Swiss banks, which have suffered hundreds of billions of dollars in outflows as a result and more than a third of Swiss private banks have closed.

The latest case stemmed from a legal dispute between private Swiss bank J. Safra Sarasin and German investor Erwin Mueller concerning “Cum Ex” trades which made use of a capital gains tax loophole that has since been outlawed, according to the report.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin, John O’Donnell in Frankfurt, and Silke Koltrowitz and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Alexander Smith

Source: Reuters

Germany conducts searches against 10 suspected Iranian spies

German authorities searched premises linked to 10 suspected Iranian spies following extensive investigations by the country’s domestic intelligence agency, prosecutors said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Federal Prosecutors Office said the raids took place early Tuesday at private homes and offices across Germany.

“We believe the suspects spied on institutions and persons in Germany at the behest of an intelligence unit associated with Iran,” spokesman Stefan Biehl told The Associated Press.

He declined to comment on a report by weekly magazine Focus that the suspects were spying on Israelis in Germany.

The investigation was prompted by a tip from Germany’s domestic intelligence service, said Biehl, adding that no arrests had been made yet.

Germany’s Interior Ministry referred questions about the raids to federal prosecutors.

Last month, the German government protested to the Iranian ambassador following the conviction of an Iranian agent for spying. The Pakistani man was convicted in Berlin last year of espionage and sentenced to more than four years in prison. His targets included Reinhold Robbe, who headed the German-Israeli Association.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Iranian ambassador Ali Majedi was summoned just before Christmas and told that “spying on people and institutions with a particular relationship to the state of Israel on German soil is a blatant violation of German law.”

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BERLIN — Jan 16, 2018, 6:45 AM ET