German prosecutors raid Commerzbank in tax evasion probe

Pens with Commerzbank logo are pictured at the bank's annual news conference in Frankfurt on February 12, 2015. (REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo)
Updated 10 November 2017
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German prosecutors raid Commerzbank in tax evasion probe

FRANKFURT: Germany’s Commerzbank has become the target of a tax evasion probe in which several current and former managers are suspected of evading 40 million euros ($47 million) in taxes via so-called dividend stripping.
Prosecutors said on Friday they had searched the offices of a major Frankfurt bank and private homes this week.
The bank involved was Commerzbank, according to a person familiar with the matter who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest lender, said it was cooperating with authorities.
Dividend stripping, also known as “cum-ex” transactions, involved buying a stock just before losing rights to a dividend, then selling it, taking advantage of a now-closed legal loophole that allowed both buyer and seller to claim tax credits.
Frankfurt prosecutors, together with federal crime police and tax officials, conducted the Commerzbank searches on Tuesday. They included the offices of the bank as well as the flats of three suspects in Frankfurt and nearby Hanau.
The legal news agency Juve first reported the news.
Investigations into the use of such schemes by a number of banks in Germany have been going on for several years. The practice may have cost the state billions of euros in tax over many years.
Last year, Portigon Financial Services, formed from parts of failed German lender WestLB, was searched by prosecutors as part of a probe into allegations that WestLB may have been involved in cum-ex trades..
Last month, prosecutors raided the Frankfurt offices of law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in relation to a former client’s cum-ex transactions.
A number of banks have already paid hundreds of millions of euros in back taxes and tens of millions to settle disputes with German authorities.
Last year, German financial watchdog BaFin closed the German operations of Maple Bank due to over-indebtedness relating to the tax evasion investigations.
The Commerzbank investigation focuses on five current and former employees aged between 51 and 63, as well as unknown individuals suspected of involvement in the scheme to evade 40 million euros of taxes from 2006 to 2010, prosecutors said.
The investigation also extends to unknown individuals and trades in 2008 at Dresdner Bank, which was taken over by Commerzbank in 2009. Prosecutors said the volume of those trades was more than 10 billion euros, with a further 75 million euros in evaded taxes.
In a statement on Friday, Commerzbank said it had identified cum-ex trades at Dresdner Bank that it halted upon the 2009 takeover. Commerzbank also said it conducted a voluntary investigation at the end of 2015 into all trades between 2003 and 2011 that “revealed that there were cum-ex trades at Commerzbank.”
Commerzbank said it proactively notified the authorities with the preliminary results of that investigation and is cooperating fully.
Shares of Commerzbank dipped on the news midafternoon, but recovered somewhat to trade 0.7 percent lower at 1613 GMT.


Japan prosecutors charge Kobe Steel in fake data scandal

Updated 7 min 30 sec ago
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Japan prosecutors charge Kobe Steel in fake data scandal

TOKYO: Japanese prosecutors charged major steelmaker Kobe Steel Thursday with violating laws overseeing competition in a massive faking of product data.
Kobe Steel, which has repeatedly apologized for the practice, said in a statement that it took the allegations seriously and was working to prevent a recurrence.
“We once again deeply apologize,” it said, without elaborating on specific charges. “The entire Kobe Steel Group is working together sincerely.”
The systematic misconduct spanned years, affecting products sent to more than 680 companies, including aluminum castings and copper tubes for autos, aircraft, appliances and trains.
The scandal, which surfaced last year, has set off a class-action lawsuit and an investigation in the US.
Kobe Steel has said a zealous pursuit of profits, unrealistic targets and an insular corporate culture were behind the scandal.
There have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to the fake data.
Charges were not filed against any individuals, though the company has said managers who knew of the wrongdoing intentionally looked the other way.
The systematic faking of data took place at various plants throughout Japan, according to the prosecutors and the company. Kobe Steel launched an internal investigation and released the findings earlier this year.
The scandal was a major embarrassment for a famous brand in a nation built on quality “monozukuri,” a phrase likening manufacturing to a craft or a science.
Kobe Steel has promised each employee will return to “the roots of monozukuri” to win back trust.
If found guilty in a court, the company could be fined. It is not clear how much.
The chief executive at Kobe Steel and several other executives resigned over the scandal. Some managers took pay cuts.
Quality control woes have been rife at other top Japanese brands, including Nissan Motor Co. Nissan has acknowledged that illegal vehicle inspections occurred for years at its plants in Japan.