Germany has signalled it is ready to pay a thief who stole secret bank data in Switzerland in order to collect a small fortune in taxes and fines for tax evasion. According to media reports, the data may relate to money held by 1,500 Germans dodging taxes by hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts.
But is it right for a state based on the rule of law to pay for stolen data? Is it a question of the ends justifying the means (exitus acta probat)? Or is it simply a modern form of bank robbery, like a Swiss lawmaker called it so colorfully on Tuesday?
It's a question that has caused a stir on both sides of the German-Swiss border. Do two wrongs make a right? Can stolen data be used as evidence in court? Or is acceptable for a state to reward a thief in the pursuit of the greater good of fighting tax evasion -- seen as a more serious crime?
Germans understandably have a deep suspicion about invasion of privacy after their ominous past experience with the Nazi's Gestapo and the East German Stasi security police. And Switzerland has historical hang ups about about Germany. There have been spirited debates on the moral pros and cons of the latest immoral offer for days.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have said they're in principle willing to pay an informant a reported 2.5 million euros for the bank data from Switzerland that could lead to more than 100 million euros for state coffers. The issue has has dominated newspaper headlines and TV bulletins in both countries for days.
That's all good news for Germany's fiscal health as it has prompted a wave of Germans with money stashed in Switzerland to come clean, as the Berlin newspaper TAZ noted today: "The mere talk about the Swiss tax data will be lucrative for the state. Those who are nervous and turn themselves in can still avoid criminal punishment but will nevertheless have to pay the taxes they've been evading."