Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Canadian clients caught up in Liechtenstein bank tax probe

Canadian clients caught up in Liechtenstein bank tax probe

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Federal tax officials are reviewing financial information on 100 Canadians on a list of wealthy clients of a Liechtenstein bank that is at the centre of an ever-widening international probe into allegations of tax evasion.

The Canada Revenue Agency “has started examinations of about 100 Canadian taxpayers in connection with accounts in Liechtenstein,” CRA spokeswoman Jacqueline Couture said in Ottawa. “If we get to them before they get to us, then we would take the appropriate measures, unless they want to go through the voluntary disclosure program before we actually can identify them.”

Canada has joined tax officials in Germany, Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States in an investigation into accounts held at LGT Group, the largest bank in Liechtenstein.

The case centres around information allegedly stolen from a division of LGT, which is owned by Liechtenstein's royal family.

In a statement released Sunday, the bank said account information for 1,400 clients was taken in 2002 by former employee Heinrich Kieber.

According to the bank, Mr. Keiber was convicted of fraud in 2004 in Liechtenstein and turned over a CD Rom containing the records to LGT. The bank said it destroyed the CD and considered the case closed.

However, several months ago Mr. Kieber sold the data to the German intelligence service for €5-million. German tax officials have used it to go after roughly 160 people for alleged tax evasion.

On Monday, British tax officials confirmed they paid the Germans 100,000 pounds for the client list and several other countries have contacted Germany about the information.

Ms. Couture of the CRA said the agency does not pay for information. She said the Germans shared the information through the OECD's Forum on Tax Administration, which includes Canada.

Germany's Finance Ministry has said the acquisition of the disc was legal and it has given no information on Mr. Kieber. He is believed to be in Australia.

Tax authorities in the U.S. are going after 100 names on the list while French officials said they are also examining 100 people. Australia has singled out 20 people so far.

Liechtenstein has faced criticism over its banking system, which permits foreigners to open trusts anonymously. The country has been singled out by the OECD as one of three “unco-operative tax havens”

“Excessive bank secrecy rules and a failure to exchange information on foreign tax evaders are relics of a different time and have no role to play in relations between democratic societies,” Angel Gurria, the OECD's secretary general, said last week.

Officials at LGT have filed criminal charges against Mr. Keiber and condemned the Germans for buying the material. “LGT regards such methods as being extremely offensive,” the bank said.

LGT has about 77,000 clients from around the world.

© Copyright The Globe and Mail

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