Criminals are placed all over the world, we don’t

Criminals are placed all over the world, we don’t

Ob Cum-Ex, tax evasion or fraud with Corona emergency aid – the damage to taxpayers due to government crimes is too great. However, according to tax investigator Birgit Orths, who investigated all these cases, the information provided by the German authorities is insufficient. “We are fragmented, regional and slow,” he says in an interview with Reuters.

“Criminals are international and we are not in the world.” As an active tax investigator, Orths publicly exposes conditions in financial management and law enforcement that he deems inappropriate. “You let the younger ones pay, the older ones leave,” says the 57-year-old.

“Power has more brakes than it supports”

Orths has been a detective of the Düsseldorf tax investigation department for twenty years and has been a member of the Organized Crime and Tax Evasion Investigation Group (EOKS) since 2015. In fact, he is not allowed to talk about his work. But some closed cases allow him to report the investigation and the problems involved. In their view, the German tax authorities lack the expertise and resources to effectively deal with war crimes. “They walk behind you on a scooter Ferrari here,” a criminal once told him about the power of German tax inspectors.

Orths claims that the tax investigation, which is part of the government’s financial management, should be its own authority. Because in his experience, tax authorities often slow down rather than support. For example, the top finance department of the tax investigation department refused to give the police tax data for the investigation of fraud in the Corona emergency aid – citing tax confidentiality. Orths claims that this must be relaxed: “We really all want this tax secrecy to lead to justice. That means protecting citizens, but not protecting the criminal.” This is the only way the investigators can return the money to the government.

Balaclava at your own expense

The investigator is also calling for more staff. In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), about three percent of the 28,000 tax officials work in tax investigations. But many federal crime cases, whether cum-ex stock deals, gang crimes or corruption cases, involved tax crimes, Orths says. The equipment is also poor. Due to gang crime, Orths writes in the book that he had to buy a balaclava at his own expense to protect his identity.

Sometimes he seized notes worth more than one million euros in a money laundering case. Because the bills did not match the tax investigation safe, investigators had to rent a safe in their name to store the evidence. Tax inspectors have the same powers as the police, but not the same resources.

The financial administration of North Rhine-Westphalia does not see the situation as serious. In recent years, NRW’s tax investigation department “has proven to be very effective in the fight against tax evasion and tax fraud,” the authority said. NRW Finance Minister Marcus Optendrenk (CDU) wants to make the fight against tax crime and money laundering the main topic of this year’s Finance Ministers’ Conference. The Ministry is in ongoing negotiations with tax inspectors on staff development.

“Banks need to do more”

In its 2022 coalition agreement, the green-green state government in North Rhine-Westphalia has actually defined strengthening tax investigations and the fight against financial crime as goals. Orths also welcomes the plans of Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) to establish a new federal agency for combating financial crime, which is intended to bring together the fragmented powers.

A prerequisite for this, however, is the reform of the tax survey at the level of the federal states, says Orths. “Why shouldn’t the crime and tax evasion enforcement agency be a separate unit, just under the Treasury Department?”

According to the investigator, the banks, the stock market and their supervisory authorities, which admitted shortcomings due to the scandal surrounding the financial service provider Wirecard, should do more to solve the underlying crimes. They would have to report suspected cases more quickly. “The involvement of banks is very evident in certain areas of crime,” says Orths. In the case of the tax-driven cum-ex share deals, which cost German taxpayers billions, the stock market supervisory authority should have recognized the volume of trading seen near the critical date.

“You should have asked questions and possibly reported it to the tax authorities,” Orths says. “But there is no obligation in the Stock Exchange Act that you have to make such a report.” In addition, the state of Hesse has requested a renewal of the law in the Bundesrat so that the authorities will have to provide more information about possible suspicions to the tax authorities.