German tax investigators swoop in ‘Offshore Leaks’ raids

BERLIN: German investigators swooped on the homes of wealthy individuals and financial firms on Wednesday in nationwide dawn raids, as part of a tax evasion investigation triggered by high-profile media leaks.

Officials searched the homes of eight individuals, eleven banks or saving institutes and the offices of four tax consultants for “evidence of untaxed income” during the morning raids, Frankfurt state prosecutors said in a statement.

The probe is the latest triggered by the so-called “Offshore Leaks”, one of a series of data dumps to the media unveiling offshore tax dealings, and touched locations scattered from the northern island of Sylt to Bad Toelz, close to the Austrian border.

Those raided Wednesday “are under suspicion of tax evasion,“ prosecutors said.

“With the help of a former subsidiary of a major German bank, they are each believed to have founded companies in tax havens on the British Virgin Islands to hide capital gains from the German tax authorities and evade tax that was due on them.”

The investigators did not say how much revenue they suspected was held back from state coffers.

While they did not name Deutsche Bank, prosecutors harked back to a raid on November 29 and 30 at the headquarters of Germany’s biggest lender in which electronic and paper documents were seized.

In a statement of its own, Deutsche said “a search of the bank’s business premises has … not taken place”, saying the lender “voluntarily submits all requested documents”.

Frankfurt prosecutors’ spokesman Noah Krueger confirmed to AFP that clients and tax advisers rather than banks were the targets of the raids.

The investigators added that their probe had been launched based on the so-called “Offshore Leaks” — published in 2013 by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who were also behind the 2016 “Panama Papers” release of documents.

So far, taxmen in 22 countries worldwide have raked in more than US$1.2 billion (€1 billion) in fines and back taxes thanks to the “Panama Papers”, the ICIJ calculated last month. — AFP

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