German authorities carry out mass raids

The target: Money that prosecutors allege was squirreled away in tax havens - notably Liechtenstein.

By
February 19, 2008 14:34
1 minute read.

 
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Across Germany, the tax inspector came calling Monday, armed with a secret list of names obtained by the country's spy agency for millions, pounding on doors and raiding homes, villas and offices. The target: Money that prosecutors allege was squirreled away in tax havens - notably Liechtenstein, a tiny Alpine principality that has been a favorite for Germans trying to avoid tax rates of up to 42 percent. In a country that has long prided itself on ethically responsible business leaders, the allegations Friday forced the resignation of Klaus Zumwinkel, the previously well-respected chief executive of mail company Deutsche Post AG. So far, no other suspects have been identified, but the government has acknowledged that its Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, paid an informant as much as €5 million for a list with the names of account holders from a Liechtenstein bank on a CD-ROM. News magazine Der Spiegel reported that the informant supplied the names and the advice available in Liechtenstein on the best way to transfer funds. "The government received an unsolicited offer of information," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, told reporters. The affair has trained an uncomfortable spotlight on Liechtenstein, a mountainous sliver of land wedged between Switzerland and Austria that has only 35,000 inhabitants. Merkel made it clear that she would press Liechtenstein for greater financial transparency when Prime Minister Otmar Hasler, who is also the finance minister, meets her on a previously scheduled visit Wednesday. Merkel said the meeting would provide a "fitting opportunity to talk again about the problems at hand," among them Liechtenstein foundations that German investigators have alleged can be used for evading taxes. "I think the events of the last week have once again made clear... that the reputation of a location is naturally an important benchmark," Merkel said Monday. Investigators probing the alleged evasion fanned out across Germany, conducting raids in and around Munich, Cologne, Ulm, Hamburg and Baden-Wuerttemberg. One raid took prosecutors and investigators to the Munich branch of the private Bank Metzler, a bank spokesman confirmed. In Hamburg, five separate raids took place at several locations in and around the port city, and four people turned themselves in and admitted to evading taxes, officials said. They were not identified. The tax evasion scandal comes on the heels of several corporate scandals in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, and an inconclusive recent discussion among politicians of what might be done to curb perceived excesses in managerial pay.

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