Controversies News Germany

Berlin’s culture secretary resigns in tax dodging scandal

The head of one of Europe’s largest art hubs admits he avoided paying taxes on money held in a Swiss bank account

As Berlin’s cultural affairs secretary, André Schmitz was responsible for one of the largest culture budgets in Europe

Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit accepted the resignation yesterday of his secretary for cultural affairs André Schmitz, who stepped down over his involvement in a tax dodging scandal.

On Monday, Schmitz admitted that he avoided paying taxes on funds held in a Credit Suisse bank account. The money was discovered by investigators during a raid on the Swiss bank in 2012. A criminal case was launched against the politician, but was closed after Schmitz paid a €5,000 penalty and almost €20,000 in back taxes. Mayor Wowereit was informed of the criminal investigation at the time, but it only became public a few days ago, following a report in the Berlin tabloid newspaper B.Z.

Schmitz said in a statement: “I have taken this step [to resign], which is personally painful for me, to avoid any damages to the office and to Berlin’s cultural policy.”

In a press statement, Wowereit thanked Schmitz “for his outstanding performance in the interest of culture in Berlin”. He said that “Berlin’s development into an internationally respected place of cultural creativity” is closely tied to Schmitz’s name. “This will remain despite the misconduct because of his private tax affairs.”

As Berlin’s cultural affairs secretary, a post he has held since 2006, Schmitz was responsible for one of the largest culture budgets in Europe. He placed great importance on the past, such as with 2013’s “Diversity Destroyed: Berlin 1933-38”, a year-long programme rememberng the victims of the Second World War.

Schmitz is a close ally of the Berlin mayor and is one of the most colourful personalities of the city’s cultural scene. At the age of 40, Schmitz was adopted by the childless shampoo heiress Pauline Schwarzkopf. Björn Böhning, the head of Berlin’s Senate Chancellery, will take over as cultural secretary until a successor is found.

A string of high-profile Germans were found to have stashed away money in secret bank accounts, including the feminist activist Alice Schwarzer, the film producer Artur Brauner and the Bayern Munich football club president Uli Hoeness. The revelations have prompted a call for a government clampdown on tax evasion.

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