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.


Philippines posts 15 percent drop in cash remittance from Middle East

Updated 23 September 2018
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Philippines posts 15 percent drop in cash remittance from Middle East

  • There has been a 15 percent decrease in remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, with fund transfers from Libya and Israel falling the most at 73 percent and 61 percent — Central Bank of the Philippines
  • Remittances from Kuwait fell by 20.4 percent despite resumption of OFW deployment; Bahrain showed negative 22.9 percent; transfers from Oman dropped by 38.3 percent; and Saudi Arabia showed a slide of 10.4 percent

MANILA: Cash remittance from Filipino workers (OFW), particularly those in the Middle East, saw a steep decline from January to July this year, figures from the Central Bank of the Philippines (BSP) show.
A lawmaker noted that even the lifting of the ban on deployment of Filipinos to Kuwait last May failed to stop the remittance plunge.
Based on latest BSP data, there was 15 percent decrease in remittances from OFWs in the Middle East, although fund transfers from Libya and Israel fell the most at 73 percent and 61 percent respectively.
With that, Rep. Henry Ong, chairman of the House Committee Chair on Banks & Financial Intermediaries, said the policy shift in OFW deployment priorities must happen “sooner rather than later.”
“Filipinos are being held hostage by armed groups in Libya. Israel recently welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte on a brief visit. However, the remittances from these two countries pale in comparison with those from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, which were in the high double-digit percentages decline,” he said.
Remittances from Kuwait fell by 20.4 percent despite the resumption of OFW deployment last May. Bahrain showed negative 22.9 percent, transfers from Oman dropped by 38.3 percent and Saudi Arabia showed a slide of 10.4 percent. 
Qatar is the exception. The remittances decline from Filipino workers there was only 6.3 percent.
The Leyte second district representative pointed out: “There should not even be Filipinos in Libya because the security situation there is horrible, but still Filipinos go because that is where they have found jobs on their own.
“OFWs clearly have bleak and low-paying job prospects here in the Philippines because our wages are way below what they can earn abroad, so we have no choice but to deploy them elsewhere, to countries that will pay them well and respect their rights as migrant workers and as people of varied gender.” .
For this to happen, Ong said the priority list of alternative countries “must include those states that are signatories to the international conventions on human rights, labor, social security, and migrant workers.
“The other criterion would be the economic growth prospects of the target host countries because that will determine how well they will be compensated for their services. OFWs will go where they are respected, wanted, and paid well.” 
Ong lamented, though, that “it does not seem the concerned top officials have what it takes to help OFWs find better jobs in new host countries.
“They are just doing bureaucratic procedures and damage control on the problems that keep cropping up, but we do not see systemic, long-term solutions. Suffering through all that are the OFWs.” 
Meanwhile, aside from the decrease in cash remittance, the Philippines also suffered a decline in deployment of OFWs in 2017 after 10 years of continuous growth.
Recruitment consultant and migration expert Emmanuel Geslani, citing statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administrstion (POEA), said deployment of OFWs to 180 countries went down by 9 percent in 2017 compared ith the previous year. The year 2016, Geslani said, was a banner year of deployment for OFWs with total deployment hitting more than two million.
POEA records show that only 1,992,746 OFWs were deployed in 2017. Geslani said this is the first time after 10 years of continuous increase starting in 2008 with 1,236,613 deployment; 2009 with 1,422,382; 2010 with 1,476,826; 2011 with 1,687,463; 2012 with 1,802,031; 2013 with 1,826,804; 2014 with 1,832,668; 2015 with 1,841,205; and 2016 with 2,112,331.
Geslani said the decrease may be attributed to actors, such as the decline in the hiring of new workers to Saudi Arabia, from 219,134 in 2016 down to 163,238 in 2017. 
A decrease in the number of new hires was also noted in the rest of the top ten OFW destinations, which include Kuwait, Qatar, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the UAE, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Oman.
“Another reason for the decline is the increasing shift of Saudi Arabia to employ more citizens to work in companies and malls as part of its ‘Saudization’,” Geslani continued.
In addition, more major projects in the Kingdom have been shelved or delayed, resulting in the exodus of more than 30,000 Filipino skilled workers in construction, maintenance services and oil industries, he added. “Crude oil, which has stayed in the $70-80 level, has prevented Middle East countries from going on construction and infrastructure projects, except for Qatar which is preparing for the football World Cup in 2022.” 
Even the household service workers sector also dropped by 8 percent in 2017 owing to internal controls implemented by the Philippine labor officers in the Middle East, Geslani said.
For 2018, he predicts that deployment of household service workers is not expected to go beyond the 200,000 mark with the deployment ban imposed in Kuwait resulting in the loss of 40,000 jobs.