Four men have gone on trial in Germany for blackmailing the Liechtenstein bank LLB with threats to reveal compromising data on over 2,300 bank customers suspected of tax evasion.
LLB reportedly paid the extortioners 9 million euros
The trial began on Friday, April 11, in Rostock but was adjourned until Wednesday after the defense submitted six motions, including a claim of judicial bias.
According to prosecutors, the four defendants, aged 41 to 50, had collected the delicate information in 2005 from a former bank employee who'd stolen it.
The group allegedly first attempted to blackmail four customers directly by threatening to take the sensitive information to the German tax authorities, but prosecutors say no money was exchanged.
Liechtenstein insists it is not a tax haven, but maintains strict bank secrecy policies
They then apparently obtained 9 million euros ($14 million) from LLB in August 2007 in exchange for returning data on 1,600 individuals. According to the bank, the information consists mainly of internal receipts.
Claims have been made that the four men still possess data on at least 700 LLB customers and that their lawyers have been negotiating for a lower sentence in exchange for its return.
The group purportedly sought to extort an additional 4 million euros from Liechtenstein for the return of the last set of data.
The case follows a massive scandal involving rich Germans who set up foundations in Liechtenstein to avoid paying taxes at home. A subsequent investigation led to the downfall of one of Germany's most prominent business leaders, Klaus Zumwinkel, who resigned in February from his position as CEO of Deutsche Post.
The current trial is expected to revive questions about the ethics of the German intelligence service BND buying a list of tax dodgers from another Liechtenstein bank, LGT, for 4.2 million euros earlier this year.