The legal tug-of-war over an alleged key figure in Germany's biggest tax scandal has apparently come to an end. According to information from WDR and "Süddeutsche Zeitung", the Swiss Federal Supreme Court approved last Wednesday's extradition of the tax lawyer Hanno Berger. The 71-year-old fled to the Alpine country ten years ago, which is known for not extraditing tax evaders to their home countries in many cases.
In the Berger case, the final instance has now decided differently. Berger will probably return to his German homeland as a prisoner. He will have to face two criminal cases at once.
A turning point in cum-ex law enforcement
The North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Justice confirmed the information. The Frankfurt Public Prosecutor's Office also said on request that they had been informed by the Federal Office of Justice in Switzerland that the extradition had been approved. Berger is considered by many to be the alleged “spirictus rector” of numerous cum-ex deals. The fact that the German law enforcement authorities managed to bring him to Germany is tantamount to a turning point. And is an announcement to the many others of the currently around 1,350 suspects in the Cum-Ex scandal who live abroad and are now also feeling the hot breath of the German prosecutors.
The Frankfurt Public Prosecutor's Office and the Cologne Public Prosecutor's Office have accused the once renowned tax attorney of tax evasion in a particularly serious case. The prosecutors see Hanno Berger as a central figure behind numerous "cum-ex" share deals, in which, according to the prosecutors, bankers, consultants and stock traders have had taxes refunded that no one had previously paid. In the cases for which Berger is accused alone, the Treasury suffered damage in the three-digit million range in evaded taxes.
Actually, Berger should have been before the Wiesbaden district court at the beginning of last year. But Berger did not appear at the beginning of the trial, citing his state of health. The court therefore issued an arrest warrant. A short time later, the district court in Bonn also issued a wanted notice for those living in exile. Finally, in July, Swiss police officers arrested him. Since then, the lawyer from the extradition cell has used all legal means to defend himself against his extradition – unsuccessfully.
"Bare reach into the tax coffers"
Berger, who once worked for the Treasury as a notorious Frankfurt bank auditor, vehemently denies the allegations, he sees himself as the victim of a campaign, primarily by the media. During his extradition proceedings in Switzerland, he claimed that the allegation of criminal tax evasion made against him in Germany was "politically motivated". At the time, he merely represented the prevailing legal opinion and was therefore not liable to prosecution.
Last summer, however, the Federal Court of Justice made it clear in another procedure that cum-ex transactions are punishable. The practiced transactions are neither legal options nor the mere exploitation of a legal loophole. According to the presiding BGH judge, Rolf Raum, "it was about a bare hand in the cash register, into which all taxpayers normally pay."