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Police raid Luxembourg banks and lawyers

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Police raid Luxembourg banks and lawyers
Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA
09:02 CET+01:00
A newly-created police unit in Düsseldorf has spent months investigating Luxembourg banks and their German subsidiaries on suspicion of helping clients evade tax and launder money, triggering a wave of raids on Tuesday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported on Wednesday that the “Organized Crime and Tax Fraud” (EOKS) unit suspect numerous Luxembourg banks and up to 90 lawyers and wealth managers of helping German customers evade tax using shell companies in Panama.

Colleagues in other German states, including Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, searched the premises of Luxembourg nationals suspected of involvement, as well as the Commerzbank branch in Frankfurt, on Tuesday.

The subsidiary of Luxembourg-based Commerzbank-International is suspected of years-long, systematic assistance to those seeking to evade taxes.

Police have a database of hundreds of alleged tax frauds and accusations of money laundering are following close behind.

A Commerzbank spokesman said that the bank had “an interest in a quick, comprehensive clarification and obviously supports the authorities actively and completely.”

Investigators in Frankfurt seized documents and email records, containing lists of names of offshore firms, copies of passports belonging to the straw-man directors of the companies, and the names of the real owners.

The spokesman said that the cases were being investigated “internally” in co-operation with the authorities, and that the bank had been asking suspicious customers to “clarify” their tax status since 2009.

It had forbidden even referring customers to people offering shell companies since 2007, he added.

Other German subsidiaries of Luxembourg banks remain under suspicion, and investigators believe that the parent companies there were aware of the underhand dealings in Germany.

Much of the tax evasion dates back to 2005, when an EU law setting up a 15 percent – and later 35 percent – tax on interest charged to citizens of other EU member state was passed in Luxembourg.

Many of the offshore shell companies were set up to hide money and avoid the tax.

SZ also reports on a case when German investigators were refused access to Luxembourg to search the premises of a financial adviser, who had been named by German tax frauds as having helped them.

Luxembourg state prosecutors said that the man was “not relevant in this case” - despite the confessions of the tax evaders – as he had done nothing more than deposit money in different companies.

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