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Austrian coin trick confounds German border control

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Austrian coin trick confounds German border control
Photo: DPA
11:30 CEST+02:00
German investors have found a cunning way to get large amounts of money across the border from Austria, news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Wednesday. It's all down to a silver collector's coin.

The “Silver Philharmonic” coin is minted from an ounce of silver and carries an image of an organ from the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra on its front. Its face value is €1.50, but it is bought and sold in the banks of Austria and Germany for between €11 and €14, making it an ideal loophole for German investors hoping to avoid toll charges, the magazine said.

Customs restrictions allow individuals to carry €10,000 in cash across the border without having to declare. This adds up to 6,000 of the new silver coins - with a market value of up to €110,000.

Austria began minting the new coins at the beginning of 2008, and they have proved particularly popular as an investment in the face of the global financial crisis. It is widely known that many wealthy Germans have Austrian bank accounts, and the ‘Austrian coin trick' has spread rapidly among internet chat forums, according to Der Spiegel.

Although German customs officials deny noticing the illicit traffic as yet, phenomenal sales figures for the coins prove that their appeal goes beyond the usual collectors' market. The Austrian mint that produces the coins initially expected a demand of around 3 to 5 million. But by the end of 2008, the mint had sold 8 million, and a further 5 million have already been sold or ordered in 2009.

There is currently a waiting time of up to four weeks to get new coins while the mint catches up with demand.

The German Finance Ministry has warned investors that although customs officials are powerless to confiscate the coins, they can report their suspicions to other authorities. Bernhard Urban, marketing spokesman of the Austrian mint, denies that the coins were intended to aid tax evaders. In uncertain economic times, the coins simply “fill a vacuum left by the banks,” he said.

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