Police raid rich Germans using spy disc

19th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Officials use a disk bought by spooks from an informant.

Berlin -- Police swooped on the homes of wealthy Germans Monday, using a list of tax evaders bought for millions of euros by German spies from an informer.

The rolling raids are set to continue throughout the week, with mixed teams of police, revenue officers and prosecutors knocking on doors at dawn at the homes of the rich. Officials declined to name any of the evaders.

The inquiry went public last Thursday with a dawn raid on the home of celebrity business executive Klaus Zumwinkel, chief of Deutsche Post for the past 18 years.

He promptly resigned. The logistics group and mail carrier appointed Monday a new chief, Frank Appel, 46, from within the company. Appel said he would continue the policies of his former boss.

Prosecutors claim Zumwinkel avoided 1 million euros (1.5 million dollars) in personal tax by creating a revocable trust for his money in Liechtenstein.

News reports said most of the 1,000 people named on the informer's computer disc were not big names.

Capping a long-running debate about income inequality, the proof that the well-paid have also cheated on taxes has roused fury in the German media and political class.

Josef Ackermann, the Swiss-born chief executive of Deutsche Bank, told the mass circulation newspaper Bild on Monday, "People who do not set a good example cannot lead.

"All of us in business are going to have to try again to regain the confidence in us that has been lost."

A tax prosecutions team from Bochum in the west of Germany fanned out across the country, seeking evidence of Liechtenstein trusts at the homes of the rich. News media reported sightings of the investigators in five cities.

Two discreet German banks catering to the very affluent admitted they had been visited by the police.

The Hauck & Aufhaeuser bank said its Munich office was visited by investigators. Another institution, Privatbank Metzler, said its offices in Frankfurt and Munich, were visited.

Finance Ministry spokesman Torsten Albig said the federal government paid "in the order of 4 to 5 million euros" (up to 7.25 million dollars) for the data spirited out of the Alpine tax haven of Liechtenstein.

Opposition parliamentarians have however demanded an inquiry into why Berlin paid a data thief.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told foreign journalists in Berlin that matters would be explained this week in the parliamentary committee with oversight over the BND foreign intelligence service.

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck defended the payment, saying the informant contacted the BND, not vice versa.

"I would like to see the outcry through the nation if we had not done anything about it," he said. The tax authorities had reimbursed the BND for the payment.

The tiny principality of Liechtenstein, between Austria and Switzerland, has a thriving financial-services industry which helps rich Germans invest their money.

Merkel, who is set to meet Wednesday with Liechtenstein Prime Minister Otmar Hasler, said she would press for an end to Liechtenstein's practice of keeping investors' affairs secret from other nations' tax investigators.

DPA with Expatica

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