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Liechtenstein tax probe goes global

Latest update : 2008-02-27

The United States, Australia and Spain are among the latest countries to have joined the global hunt for tax evaders using Lichtenstein to avoid paying tax at home.

The United States and Australia joined in the hunt for tax dodgers using Liechtenstein Tuesday as Germany said it had widened its investigation into the scam in the Alpine principality.
The US Internal Revenue Service said it was investigating more than 100 American taxpayers over bank accounts held in Liechtenstein, while Australian tax authorities said they were looking into 20 cases.
"Combating off-shore tax avoidance and evasion are high priorities," the IRS said in a statement.
"We are determined to protect the US tax system from abuse and ensure that taxpayers pay what they owe ... It should be clear from recent events that there is no safe hiding place for the proceeds of tax avoidance and evasion."
Italy and France were quick to follow suit, saying that they had found their nationals on a list of names with accounts in Liechtenstein being circulated by the tax authorities.
Spain also announced that it was looking at information regarding several citizens included on a list of people with bank accounts in Liechtenstein.
Earlier, Sweden confirmed that it was among nine OECD countries studying information on accounts in the small country nestled between Austria and Switzerland, suggesting the tax probe was taking on an unprecedented international scope.
In Germany, state prosecutor Hans-Ulrich Krueck said investigators had turned their attention to a second foreign bank believed to be involved in the scandal that initially focused on Liechtenstein's LGT group.
Krueck said inspectors stumbled across information pointing to the institution while investigating thre German banks for helping clients evade taxes by placing billions of euros (dollars) in trusts in Liechtenstein.
"In the course of our investigation, the name of a second foreign bank believed to have provided clients with similar advice on the management of their investments, emerged," he said.
Krueck did not name the bank nor the country where it is based but a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said authorities were targeting a subsidiary of Swiss private banking group Vontobel in Liechtenstein.
In Zurich, Vontobel on Tuesday rejected the reports, saying that none of its client data was being examined in connection with the affair.  
"Vontobel Treuhand AG, Liechtenstein, wishes to confirm that none of its client data have been obtained unlawfully or used for improper purposes," the parent bank said.
A Vontobel spokesman added that the director of its Liechtenstein unit had previously worked at the principality's LGT Group.  
LGT Group acknowledged on Sunday that client information obtained by the German secret services had been stolen from it by a former employee.
The probe is the biggest in German history and is believed to be based on a confidential list from LGT sold to German intelligence agents for 4.2 million euros (6.2 million dollars).
Up to 1,000 rich German businessmen, sports stars and entertainers are suspected of having cheated the taxman by placing some four billion euros (nearly six billion dollars) in secret trusts in Liechtenstein.
Krueck said the first 10 days of the probe there had been raids on the offices and homes of 150 German suspects and that trusts containing a total of 200 million euros had been investigated.
"Ninety-one of those have confessed and made downpayments of 27.8 million euros on their tax arrears. The amount is increasing daily."
German has threatened to isolate Liechtenstein over the affair and said on Monday it was prepared to pass on details about accounts in the principality to other countries.
The scandal broke ealier this month when German television screened footage of fiscal inspectors raiding the villa of Deutsche Post boss Klaus Zumwinkel, prompting his resignation.
For its part, Liechtenstein has complained that it is being bullied by its large neighbour and insisted that there has to be some privacy against the growing powers of the state.
"At a time when other states are increasingly interfering in the private sphere of their citizens ... citizens feel a big need for strong privacy rights protection," Liechtenstein's Crown Prince Alois said last week.

Date created : 2008-02-27