Angela Merkel - Wikimedia Commons
BERLIN - 10 May 2017: German authorities said Wednesday they had opened a probe into up to 2,000 companies registered in Malta on suspicion of tax fraud, after receiving an anonymous tip.
"There are branches of big German corporations on this long list," the finance minister of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Norbert Walter-Borjans, told reporters in Berlin.
The nameless informant handed over a USB stick listing 70,000 companies registered in Malta, of which between 1,700 and 2,000 are linked to German corporations, Walter-Borjans said.
He said there was "strong suspicion" that the nominally Maltese firms linked to major German corporations were trying to dodge tax laws as shell companies.
"Our investigators with global contacts will not be steered off course in their campaign against tax evasion and won't be intimidated," he added.
NRW has spearheaded Germany's campaign against tax cheats who attempt to hide their holdings offshore.
Since January 2006, several German states have bought CDs or USB sticks containing stolen data on German tax cheats.
NRW alone has bought 11 CDs, which it says have led 120,000 German citizens to self-report Swiss bank accounts and pay back-taxes and fines.
The latest announcement from NRW, which goes to the polls on Sunday, comes just weeks after German prosecutors said they had arrested a Swiss man, identified as Daniel M., 54, on suspicion of espionage since 2012.
Media have reported that the alleged spy had run a paid mole inside the NRW finance ministry in a bid to monitor cross-border tax probes.
In May 2015, the EU and Switzerland signed an agreement on exchanging bank data from 2018 that will effectively end the Swiss tradition of bank secrecy for members of the bloc.
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