German Trial Reveals New Data on Rich Tax Cheats | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.08.2008
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German Trial Reveals New Data on Rich Tax Cheats

Authorities who swooped down on rich tax dodgers in several nations earlier this year on suspicion of sheltering funds in Liechtenstein, may gain access to a new damning set of data submitted at a trial in Germany.

Two businessmen behind bars

Wealthy Germans are under increasing scrutiny by tax authorities

Confidential data about rich people's accounts at a discreet Liechtenstein bank has been placed before a German court in the northern city of Rostock, defense lawyers were quoted as saying on Saturday, July 2.

Vaduz in Liechtenstein

The tiny Alpine principality of Liechtenstein has been rocked by accusations of being a tax haven

Three men are accused of extorting 9 million euros ($14 million) from a Liechtenstein bank, LLB, by threatening to reveal details on 2,300 accounts.

The news reports said the court was shown data on Friday on some 1,850 accounts.

"We're not saying where the data came from," Astrid Denecke, a lawyer, was quoted as saying by the news magazine Der Spiegel.

The court said it would study the documents before passing them to the German tax authorities which will carry out their own investigations.

"Most of the statements list amounts in the millions," said another lawyer Leonore Gottschalk-Solger, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.

Both lawyers said the evidence was intended to mitigate the accused men's guilt by demonstrating how LLB worked.

Déjà vu

Klaus Zumwinkel

Deutsche Boss Klaus Zumwinkel fell into disgrace after the tax authorities raided his home and office

The exposure of hidden funds at another Liechtenstein bank earlier this year embarrassed taxpayers as far away as Australia and angered the Alpine principality, which is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland.

Liechtenstein has angrily denied abetting tax evasion, but also refuses to disclose whose money it is keeping, saying it is up to bank clients to honestly report their income in their home nations.

In Germany, the tax evasion scandal -- considered one of the biggest in the country's history -- erupted in February this year after German officials conducted raids on the home and offices of Klaus Zumwinkel, the high-profile boss of Deutsche Post, Europe's largest postal service. Zumwinkel, who is suspected of having dodged taxes to the tune of 1 million euros, has since resigned his post.

Ever since, German authorities have been conducting raids across the country on private individuals for allegedly sheltering money in accounts at Liechtenstein's biggest private bank, the LGT Group, which specializes in setting up foundations and is owned by Liechtenstein's royal family.

An international affair

The affair has angered ordinary Germans and sparked a heated debate about the ethics and accountability of the country's highly-paid business elite.

Germany also shared the information with other countries, which began investigating their own citizens.

The United States, Britain, Australia, Italy, France, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, Greece and Spain have all said they are hunting for taxpayers hiding their money in Liechtenstein.

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