Stolen Data Spur Tax Probes
Ex-Staffer of Bank In Liechtenstein Offered Information
By MIKE ESTERL, GLENN R. SIMPSON and DAVID CRAWFORD
February 19, 2008; Page A4
A sweeping tax-evasion probe roiling Germany and threatening to spread to
other countries was sparked by bank client data allegedly stolen by a former
Liechtenstein bank employee now believed to be in Australia, according to
authorities in the small alpine principality.
Heinrich Kieber, a former employee of Liechtenstein's largest bank, LGT
Group, has offered confidential client data to tax authorities on several
continents over the past 18 months, including the U.S., according to a
person familiar with the matter. Such disclosures could undermine
Liechtenstein's reputation as a reliable and discreet tax haven for rich
The data already has caused a firestorm in Germany, where authorities say
they are pursuing leads on hundreds of possible tax dodgers. The German
government paid roughly €4.2 million to an unnamed individual for
confidential information tied to Liechtenstein accounts. The government has
declined to identify the source of its information.
In an opening salvo of the probe, German prosecutors last week detained
Klaus Zumwinkel, the longtime head of postal giant Deutsche Post AG and a
pillar of the country's corporate establishment. Deutsche Post said
yesterday that Frank Appel, a board member, will replace Mr. Zumwinkel, who
hasn't commented publicly on the tax-evasion charges.
Police raided homes and offices in several cities yesterday, including
Munich in the south and Hamburg in the north, as they extend their dragnet.
"The raids will continue for weeks," said Eduard Güroff, a spokesman for
prosecutors in the western city of Bochum, which is leading the
Liechtenstein authorities said they suspected prosecutors in Germany are
acting on information first taken from the bank by Mr. Kieber, a
Liechtenstein citizen and former LGT employee.
Robert Wallner, a prosecutor in Liechtenstein, said Mr. Kieber was charged
with fraud earlier this decade in an unrelated real-estate case. During the
investigation, he added, Mr. Kieber threatened to release sensitive bank
data on thousands of LGT clients unless he was given a new passport and
identity to avoid prosecution.
Prosecutors denied the request and believed at the time that Mr. Kieber
returned all confidential data to Liechtenstein authorities, according to
Mr. Wallner. After upholding his conviction in 2004 but allowing him to go
free, Liechtenstein authorities lost contact with Mr. Kieber, he added.
Liechtenstein authorities now suspect that Mr. Kieber, who they say is about
50 years old, kept some data and shared it with other individuals. They are
investigating the matter. Mr. Kieber is believed to be in Australia,
according to people familiar with his case. He couldn't be located for
LGT, which is owned by Liechtenstein's ruling family, wouldn't comment on
the possible role of Mr. Kieber. It said that confidential client data was
stolen from LGT Treuhand AG, a subsidiary, in 2002 by an employee who is no
longer with the company. The bank added that it appeared the data "has been
unlawfully disclosed" and that it became aware of the problem last summer.
A spokesman at LGT said the bank is cooperating with Liechtenstein
authorities. He added that there had been no direct contact with German
Thursday's raid of Mr. Zumwinkel's villa on the outskirts of Cologne
represents further upheaval for corporate Germany, which already is reeling
from recent corruption scandals involving some of its marquee corporate
names and increasingly heated public debates about rich
executive-compensation packages at a time when prices are up and the economy
Analysts say the negative publicity has fueled support for left-leaning
political parties in recent state elections, further stalling economic
restructuring measures pushed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative-led
"People could lose their trust in the market economy. This is the big
danger," said Joachim Schwalbach, a professor at Humboldt University's
Institute of Management in Berlin.
Liechtenstein has long been a destination for the undeclared funds of
wealthy Europeans. Often, money is driven across the border and delivered in
cash to local banks.
Germany, where income-tax levels can exceed 40%, has been trying to clamp
down on tax evaders for decades but often with limited success because of
the lack of a coordinated international approach.
By agreeing to pay for information tied to Liechtenstein bank accounts,
German investigators are now taking recent efforts to clamp down on tax
dodgers to a new level, tax lawyers said.
"It's a clear message to the German public that even accounts or trusts in
Liechtenstein are not safe anymore," said Andreas Köster-Böckenförde, a
lawyer in Frankfurt at the law firm Jones Day.
Liechtenstein, alongside Andorra and Monaco, remain on a shrinking list of
so-called uncooperative tax havens drawn up in 2002 by the Paris-based
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Liechtenstein still
makes a distinction between money laundering and international tax evasion
when it offers to help with international investigations, said Jeffrey Owen,
an OECD official.
The Liechtenstein government spokeswoman declined yesterday to respond to
questions, referring queries to a news conference today.
--Edward Taylor and Almut Schoenfeld contributed to this article.
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