Swiss-German tax row turns ugly with 'Nazi' jibes

20th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The German finance minister revealed in an interview that he had received hate mail and had been compared to a Nazi for his attacks on Switzerland's cherished traditions of banking secrecy.

Zurich -- A tax row between Switzerland and Germany took a venomous turn on Thursday, with Nazi accusations against German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck after he likened the Swiss to cowed "Indians."

Steinbrueck -- no stranger to scandal over his own remarks -- revealed in an interview that he had received hate mail and had been compared to a Nazi for his attacks on Switzerland's cherished traditions of banking secrecy.

"I get threatening letters from Switzerland and get called a Nazi henchman," Steinbrueck told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. "It is totally out of proportion and unacceptable."

During a Swiss parliamentary debate on banking secrecy on Wednesday, Christian Democrat parliamentarian Thomas Mueller said Steinbrueck was like a figure from the Nazi era -- a sensitive topic in both Germany and Switzerland.

He described the minister as the new definition of the "ugly German."

"He reminds me of the old generation of Germans, who 60 years ago went through the streets with leather coats, boots and armbands."

His colleagues and the speaker of the lower chamber, Chiara Simoneschi, later rapped Mueller.

"If I had been aware of the extent of these declarations, I would have intervened. His comments were offensive and inappropriate," she said.

Swiss tabloid Blick showed Steinbrueck on its front page on Thursday with the headline "Nazi! Parliamentarian likened German finance minister to Gestapo." Zurich daily Tages Anzeiger said the dispute "has become uglier."

The Swiss government was due to hold an extraordinary meeting on the banking secrecy issue on Thursday, a spokesman said.

The tone between the neighbours has sharpened following German pressure on Bern over its banking secrecy laws, which Berlin claims encourages tax evasion.

Germany and France have been pushing for a list of tax havens to be drawn up ahead of a summit of G20 leaders, prompting Switzerland to announce a landmark decision to ease banking secrecy to combat tax cheats.

Over the weekend, Steinbrueck triggered uproar in Switzerland with a Wild West analogy, saying the threat of the country being placed on a tax haven blacklist was a deterrent comparable to the cavalry scaring the "Indians."

"The cavalry in Fort Yuma doesn't always have to ride out. Sometimes it is sufficient just for the Indians to know that they are there," Steinbrueck was quoted as saying at a meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in Britain.

Germany's ambassador was on Tuesday summoned to the Swiss Foreign Ministry, which expressed indignation about the "insulting" and "indefensible" comments.

Steinbrueck's spokesman, Torsten Albig, told reporters on Wednesday the minister had "not been in any way disrespectful" to Switzerland or the Swiss.

Steinbrueck has attracted controversy before with sometimes-pointed remarks.

In December, he launched a highly unusual attack against Britain's economic stimulus package, accusing the government of "crass Keynesianism" and "tossing around billions" that would saddle the next generation with debt.

With Germany headed for its worst recession in 60 years, Steinbrueck in January was caught on camera during a debate in parliament about eradicating poverty casting a hopeful eye at his lottery ticket.


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