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German minister refuses to apologize for tax spat

German minister refuses to apologize for tax spat

Germany's finance minister said Tuesday that he doesn't need to say sorry to neighbors such as Switzerland for accusing them of aiding tax evasion, further fueling a spat which started weeks ago.
Peer Steinbrueck needled Swiss nerves in March by saying that other countries should use "the whip" on the Swiss to combat tax evasion and banking secrecy. This caused an outcry in Switzerland, with one lawmaker using Nazi imagery to describe the "ugly" German minister.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Steinbrueck said "we have nothing to apologize for."
"The German treasury is losing money and that makes fools out of the honest taxpayer in Germany. If I didn't have this tax evasion, I could reduce tax rates and I would have money for education, research and development and for infrastructure," he said.
President Barack Obama also vowed Monday to clamp down on companies that duck U.S. taxes with offshore havens by setting new limits on how far businesses can defer U.S. taxes on overseas profits.
Steinbrueck flippantly compared Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein with one of the world's poorest nations, Burkina Faso, because the four European nations had boycotted talks on tax evasion last year.
He said they shouldn't complain that they now appear on a black list published by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.
"They all could certainly have come. And obviously I'll also invite them to the follow-up conference in Berlin in June: Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Ouagadougou," Steinbrueck said.
Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso, a west African nation that is not on the OECD list of uncooperative tax authorities.
Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Belgium have since promised to change tax rules and cooperate more with other nations to crack down on tax fraud.
Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said he personally wanted to apologize to EU nations on the list because "in no way are they noncooperative jurisdictions or tax havens" and it was not fair to put them on the list.
Luxembourg's prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker has also responded angrily to Steinbrueck's earlier comments and has reportedly threatened to resign after 10 years as the leader of regular euro-zone economy talks because Germany and France have pushed his country to loosen banking secrecy rules that help attract investment.
On The Net:
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/38/14/42497950.pdf
Associated Press writer Barbara Schaeder contributed to this story.