FRANKFURT: A Swiss man accused of spying on German tax officials admitted to the espionage operation on Thursday, and told a court he acted out of “patriotism” as well as for profit.
Daniel Moser, 54, was arrested in the German business capital Frankfurt in April on spying charges after he compiled information on officials tasked by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia with uncovering wealth hidden at Swiss banks.
In a statement read out by his lawyer to Frankfurt’s superior regional court, Moser denied acting with criminal intent.
Rather, he was driven by “patriotism, love for adventure, profit-seeking motives and indignation”.
As a former policeman, Moser said he merely sought to uncover criminal behaviour on the part of German tax officials.
Switzerland had been seeking the identities of three German tax officers, hoping to build a case against them for illegally obtaining banking data, which are protected under the country’s strict secrecy laws.
Swiss banks have come under intense pressure in recent years as several German states started buying CDs or USB memory sticks allegedly containing data on German taxpayers who had parked their fortunes across the border.
Fearing prosecution, many of Germany’s rich and famous subsequently came forward to declare their hidden wealth, boosting the tax coffers of Europe’s biggest economy by billions of euros.
In the extraordinary court statement, Moser voiced regret for his action, and named his Swiss spy handlers.
Moser, who once worked as a security officer at Swiss banking giant UBS, said he was paid 28,000 euros ($33,000, Dh121,110) by Bern for the espionage job.
He described himself as a “middleman” between a security company — which helped to compile information on the targeted individuals, and the Swiss secret service.
Moser risks up to five years in jail.
But the presiding judge had said that the trial could close with a suspended sentence of up to two years and a fine of around 50,000 euros if Moser’s confession proves to be “credible and comprehensible”.
The spying case had sparked outrage in Germany, with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel rebuking Switzerland over the scandal and summoning Bern’s envoy for clarification.
It was especially embarrassing for Switzerland, which in 2015 had signed a deal with the European Union to exchange bank data starting in 2018 as part of an international pledge to clamp down on tax cheats.