Germany's most productive tax inspectors work from an enormous new office block in the heart of Hamburg's HafenCity district. In a single year, the six employees here at the city-state's central customs office processed energy taxes amounting to €15 billion ($20 billion) -- or, more precisely, €14,976,199,324. In comparison, the figure corresponds to nearly a quarter of all revenue from taxes paid on consumer products in Germany.
This office owes its immense earning power to the fact that many major players in the oil industry -- such as Shell, Esso and RWE Dea, the gas and oil subsidiary of the German energy giant RWE -- have their headquarters in the northern port city, and all fall under the oversight of this single customs office.
By the 15th of every month, the companies must submit a form on which they record how many liters of various petroleum products they have sold and how much they owe in taxes on those products. They then have 55 days to transfer that amount to the customs office.
Angelika Schmiedeke, the division's director, is no stranger to large sums. "They're just numbers, whether it's €100,000 or €100 million," she says. Still, she and her colleagues choose to err on the side of caution when auditing these documents since, as Schmiedeke says, "three pairs of eyes are better than one."