Feature Story / Blame it
IRS searches for hidden U.S.
assets in Liechtenstein banks
have become indignant about it -- including me,"
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday in
her weekly podcast.
probe already has targeted former Deutsche Post
Chief Executive Klaus Zumwinkel, who was forced to
resign this month after prosecutors accused him of
evading up to $1.4 million in taxes by sheltering
money in a Liechtenstein foundation.
incriminating bank data were sold by Heinrich
Kieber, 42, a computer expert who worked from 1999
to 2002 for Liechtenstein's LGT Treuhand bank.
Kieber sold four DVDs containing the data to the
German intelligence agency, the BND, for $7.4
million ($6.2 million after taxes), German press
authorities reportedly paid an additional $190,000
for data on British clients after the German
investigation began bearing fruit.
the fact that the new cases appear to be based on
secretly purchased, stolen data is providing fodder
for defense lawyers and general expressions of
outrage from officials in Liechtenstein and at LGT,
the wealth and asset management group of the
Liechtenstein royal family.
officials have said it is "utterly refuted" that
their foundation clients are necessarily tax
evaders, and Justice Minister Klaus Tschuetscher
said the issue of tax evasion had "nothing at all"
to do with Liechtenstein's laws of secrecy on
someone stuffs his untaxed money into a mattress,
you wouldn't go and tell the mattress maker he can
no longer make mattresses," he said at a recent
foundations in question operate like trusts, but
there is no record of who created the foundations
or for whose benefit, except for the legal
intermediaries. Tax rates are very low, but
deposits are so high -- by some estimates as much
as $100 billion, though the exact amount is not
publicly known -- the revenue is thought to provide
about one-third of all the principality's tax
don't buy a zero-percent tax rate," Murphy said.
"What you buy when you go to a tax haven is
secrecy. And that's the reason they're so popular
for those who have a great deal of money."
widening probe has already recovered $39 million in
back taxes for Germany; -- By Christian Retzlaff
and Kim Murphy
have traced more than $296 million in German assets
to secretive foundations in Liechtenstein in a
widening, worldwide tax-evasion investigation in
which 163 Germans have admitted guilt, prosecutors
the U.S. Internal Revenue Service announced that it
was initiating enforcement action against 100
American taxpayers in connection with Liechtenstein
probes were launched after a former Liechtenstein
bank employee, now in hiding, sold secret bank
records to the German intelligence agency.
Authorities in the U.S. and Europe want to know
whether shadowy foundations in the tiny,
mountainous principality between Austria and
Switzerland have sheltered billions of dollars on
which taxes were never paid.
authorities said they had collected $39 million in
back taxes from 91 suspects so far, while 72 others
had come forward and offered to pay levies to avoid
sum is increasing daily," said Hans-Ulrich Krueck,
prosecutor in charge of white-collar crime in
Bochum, in whose jurisdiction many of the purported
said the investigation was also focusing on a small
number of employees at four banks, three of them in
Germany, suspected of helping their clients hide
their funds in anonymous trusts in Liechtenstein.
In an era of increasingly strict international
financial transparency regulations, the country is
renowned for its powerful bank secrecy laws.
administrators in Britain, Australia, Canada,
France, Italy, New Zealand and Sweden are also
conducting probes as a result of the banking
officials believe that more than $190 million in
unpaid taxes could be identified through the
said the inquiry marked the reversal of a decade of
lax international pursuit of tax-haven
investigations they said waned severely in the last
eight years or so.
had a free rein of it for years," said Richard
Murphy, London-based senior advisor to the Tax
Justice Network, which has campaigned to end tax
havens around the world.
Germany, skyrocketing salaries for corporate elites
and the growth of a poor underclass have stiffened
the political will to pursue wealthy tax
because of the extremely inflated executives' wages
in the past decade," said Jan Hagen, a banking
expert at the European School of Management and
Technology in Berlin. "The gap is growing between
the super-rich and the super-poor, and ordinary
people think those on top are taking out Germany
like one big self-service mart."
of the amount of potential unpaid German taxes have
ranged from $420 million to $5.6 billion.
Authorities said Tuesday that they were focusing on
120 cases involving 150
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