SPÖ suggests ‘list of tax evasion shame’

Social Democratic (SPÖ) General Secretary Günther Kräuter has said the possible publication of a “list of disgrace” to increase the pressure on tax dodgers has his party’s unequivocal support.

Kräuter told broadcaster ORF yesterday evening (Tues) he backed the idea of Labour Chamber (AK) officials. Leading AK members said Austria should follow the example of Greece in creating and publishing a list of names of people who evaded taxes in the past years. The debt-stricken southern European country put such a list on the internet earlier this week. It also features well known businessmen and entertainers.

Kräuter said yesterday his party could imagine giving the green light to compiling a list of Austrians who stashed their money into accounts in Switzerland and other countries to evade paying higher taxes in their homeland. The general secretary of the Social Democrats said: “It is not acceptable that some social classes assume they can do whatever they want.”

Germany agreed with Switzerland on tightening their partnership in catching tax dodgers last year but critics think that the German government is still not doing enough in chasing rich entrepreneurs who hide their assets in accounts managed by banks in the non-European Union (EU) member which has infamously high bank secrecy regulations.

German lawmakers and anti-fiscal evasion officials controversially decided to acquire a disc containing data of thousands of Germans engaged in tax evasion abroad from a whistleblower in Liechtenstein. The storage medium allegedly holds information on more than 100 Austrians.

AK President Herbert Tumpel reacted hesitantly to fellow AK members’ blunt appeal for a “list of shame” yesterday. However, Tumpel made clear that the Austrians who engaged in tax fraud in Liechtenstein would be exposed. A spokesman for People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter said today data protection and banking secrecy laws made such revelations impossible in Austria.

Kräuter’s attack on tax fraudsters and his call to present a list of names to the public comes on the heels of a string of other disputed suggestions. The SPÖ general secretary said earlier this month that Austria could sell its 15 fighter aircraft and cooperate with neighbouring countries over protecting its airspace. Kräuter argued Austria was facing no danger from foreign armies and claimed that such a reform of its military would help the state save millions of Euros in the coming years.

SPÖ Defence Minister Norbert Darabos rejected Kräuter’s idea. Darabos stressed that the Eurofighters’ services were an important part of the Austrian army’s actions. He said Kräuter may have had good intentions by expressing the idea considering the government’s need to restore the budget but also emphasised that the constitution kept the country from teaming up with other countries as suggested by Kräuter.

Kräuter also caused a stir within his own party by suggesting that kids from rich families could be forced to pay tuition fees. Kräuter said that wealthy households “can afford it”. The idea contradicts the SPÖ’s official policy. The party supported a draft bill which freed all students in Austria from paying charges in 2008. The ÖVP wants to reintroduce the fees to improve conditions for lecturers and students in times of soaring student numbers and higher building maintenance and energy costs.