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LGT scandal spreads Europe-wide

By Agencies

A tax scandal involving Liechtenstein and Germany widened on Monday as investigators from Britain to Scandinavia reportedly tried to feed off details pointing to widespread tax evasion.


Liechtenstein’s LGT Group acknowledged that client information obtained by the German secret services was stolen from it by a former employee.


“The data material illegally disclosed to the German authorities is limited... to the client data stolen from LGT Treuhand in 2002,” Liechtenstein’s LGT Group said in a statement released late on Sunday.


Germany said earlier this month that investigators had paid an informant up to €5 million (Dh27m) for data on holders of accounts with LGT in Liechtenstein.


British authorities have also now paid £100,000 pounds (Dh720,000) for a list of about 100 wealthy Britons allegedly evading tax through the tiny Alpine principality, the Financial Times reported on Monday.


Germany’s Handelsblatt daily also reported that Finland, Sweden and Norway have expressed interest in the list of clients.


Handelsblatt quoted a source close to the investigation as saying that investors from other nations featured on the list.


“When one secretly copies data onto a disc, one does not have time to sort the names by nationality,” the source said.


Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank voiced indignation at how the “stolen information” was being shared around European capitals.


“Apparently, the stolen data material has also been illegally disclosed, directly or indirectly, to other authorities,” the bank said in a statement.


“LGT regards such methods as being extremely offensive,” it added.


The data concerns about 1,400 client relationships, with the largest number - about 600 - resident in Germany, the bank said.


“The generalisation put forward in some cases that all the clients affected are tax offenders is to be utterly refuted,” it added.


LGT alleged that the person who had informed the German authorities was a former employee, Liechtenstein citizen Heinrich Kieber.


Kieber worked for the bank since 1999, first as an external employee of an IT company and from April 2001 to November 2002 as a direct employee.


LGT Group alleged that Kieber was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in 1997 by Spanish authorities over a real estate fraud case. He was sentenced in Liechtenstein to a fine of CHF600,000 (Dh2bn) in October 2001.


Kieber left Liechtenstein in November 2002, but before quitting the country he stole client data from LGT Group and copied it onto four DVDs, the bank alleged.


The case has sparked keen interest in Liechtenstein’s larger neighbour Switzerland, with some bankers fearing the country’s own fabled banking secrecy laws will come under renewed scrutiny.


“Pressure on Switzerland is growing and the country is once again in the sights” of the international community, Jan-Egbert Sturm, a director of economic research at the University of Zurich, told AFP last week.


Swiss laws oblige banks to provide information in criminal investigations and to report any signs of money laundering, but effectively prohibit them from giving information to domestic or foreign tax authorities.


The Swiss Bankers’ Association has itself been embroiled in the media storm surrounding the Liechtenstein affair after its head, Pierre Mirabaud, apologised for comparing the methods of the German authorities to the Gestapo.


German chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to isolate Liechtenstein, a country of 35,000 people nestled between Switzerland and Austria, by refusing to ratify its accession to Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel zone. (AFP)