Berlin The excitement was great when Baden-Württemberg’s Finance Minister Danyal Bayaz (Greens) announced an anonymous reporting portal for tax fraud in 2021. The Union saw “denunciation” favored, the FDP spoke of a “block warden mentality”. Bayaz experienced a shitstorm and needed police protection.
The conclusion is differentiated: The authorities receive additional information about potential tax fraud via the tax portal. So far, however, the reports have not been of any higher quality than the “analogue” anonymous reports, for example by letter. Meanwhile, a Handelsblatt survey shows that other federal states are already working on their own reporting portals – Baden-Württemberg’s initiative is well received.
Specifically, 3068 tips were received via the anonymous portal, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Finance informed the Handelsblatt on request. 579 submissions were made by other means.
A total of 89 procedures were initiated through reports via the portal. This applies to criminal tax proceedings of the tax investigation as well as the criminal and fine offices. So the prosecution rate was 2.9 percent. For the other routes, the rate was 6.6 percent in the same period.
Baden-Württemberg secures 850,000 euros in taxes through tips
The Ministry of Finance explained: “The quality of the information is not necessarily better online, but we have also received relevant information.” Many large cases of tax fraud have been uncovered in the past by anonymous whistleblowers. The advantage of the portal lies in the fact that anonymous queries are also possible. An advantage, after all, the sender of an anonymous letter can hardly be determined.
The quality of the tips is not necessarily better online, but we did receive relevant tips. Ministry of Finance Baden-Württemberg
In total, almost 850,000 euros more in taxes could be collected in Baden-Württemberg in 2022 thanks to all the information. However, the Ministry of Finance does not break down the additional result according to reporting channels because it sees the online portal as a “supplementary element” to the previous channels. The number is still provisional as not all procedures have been completed.
It is estimated that around 50 billion euros in taxes are evaded nationwide every year. Up until now, citizens have only been able to report tax fraud to the authorities in person, by letter or e-mail, or by telephone. However, this can also be done anonymously.
The reporting portal is therefore an additional option for Baden-Württemberg to report suspected tax offenses to the tax authorities.
Despite all the criticism, Finance Minister Bayaz always emphasized that the instrument of anonymous tip-offs was “fundamentally correct and important in the fight against tax fraud”. Just one correct tip alone could bring in hundreds of thousands of euros in evaded taxes.
Further portals are planned
In fact, other states are now following suit. On request, Schleswig-Holstein announced that the CDU and the Greens had agreed in their coalition agreement to set up a “central digital mailbox for incoming tax fraud reports”.
The Ministry of Finance is currently examining the technical implementation. In addition, an online whistleblower portal will also be set up in the area of money laundering together with the interior and justice ministries.
In Lower Saxony, the coalition of SPD and Greens has also included a digital reporting portal for tax offenses as a project in the coalition agreement. The responsible state office is already working on a concept, according to the Lower Saxony Ministry of Finance, which referred to “positive experiences” from Baden-Württemberg.
Lower Saxony’s Finance Minister Gerald Heere (Greens) told the Handelsblatt: “In the technical implementation, we will pay particular attention to ensuring that the requirements for maintaining tax secrecy and data protection are guaranteed.”
Taxes are to be evaded every year in Germany.
In Bremen, the citizenship, i.e. the state parliament, has just requested the red-green-red Senate to also set up an anonymous whistleblower portal. Here it was said that the Ministry of Finance was in close contact with Baden-Württemberg and would be informed about the results there.
NRW and Hesse are still skeptical
In Hamburg, too, the government made up of the SPD and the Greens is currently analyzing the experiences made in the south-west. This is happening above all with a view to the still outstanding law with which Germany will implement the EU directive on whistleblower protection (whistleblower directive). If this included the establishment of a reporting portal, the Hanseatic city would “not shut itself off from such a requirement”.
The black-green state government of North Rhine-Westphalia is skeptical about an online reporting portal. Finance Minister Marcus Optendrenk (CDU) said: “In North Rhine-Westphalia, you can give any information you want to any of the 129 tax offices – whether anonymously or in person, whether in writing or by telephone.” The need for an additional information portal is ” not visible”.
The black-green state government of Hesse makes a similar statement. There are currently no considerations to create an anonymous whistleblower system for tax offices, it said.
The head of the German Tax Union, Florian Köbler, praised Baden-Württemberg’s step as “brave”. The fact that other countries are now following suit can be seen as a “positive trend”.
Köbler told the Handelsblatt: “With a reporting portal, there is no online tax pillory.” Everyone called for the digitization of administration. The tax administration must also be digitally accessible for the citizens. “The analog way is not taboo,” explained Köbler.
With the digitally transmitted data, tax authorities could act much more investigatively. In the future, reports of tax fraud can certainly even be analyzed using artificial intelligence (AI).
More: Union countries stop better protection for whistleblowers.