German Panama Papers probe targets banks in nationwide raids

German tax authorities raided the offices of several banks, tax consultants and wealthy people across the country. The suspects' tax evasion efforts allegedly have links to Germany's biggest lender.

German investigators raided the homes of eight people and 11 banks on Wednesday as part of a probe linked to the "Panama Papers" tax evasion scandal.

Officials searched for "evidence of untaxed income" at locations across Germany, which also included the offices of four tax consultants, Frankfurt state prosecutors said.

The wealthy individuals are suspected of founding letter-box companies in the British Virgin Islands with the help of a former Deutsche Bank subsidiary to evade capital gains tax, they added.

Authorities did not say which banks were searched or the estimated loss of tax revenue. Deutsche Bank said in a statement that no raid had taken place in its offices.

Read more: Paradise Papers — what you need to know

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Bono and Nude Estates

U2 frontman and activist Bono was one of the highest-profile players named in the papers. In an elaborate web of financial transactions, Bono invested in a Maltese company called Nude Estates that was involved in a shady deal over a Lithuanian shopping mall. Malta is famous for its liberal tax policies. A spokesman for the singer denied any wrongdoing.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

US commerce secretary

President Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was listed in the papers for his interests in the Russian gas company Sibur. Ross has now been accused of failing to disclose his Russian connections to Congress during his confirmation hearing, though Ross has argued that as the company is not one facing US sanctions, he was not obliged to disclose them.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Queen's private estate in hot water

Queen Elizabeth II is provided an income by her private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster. According to the Paradise Papers, the duchy invested 10 million pounds ($13 million) in offshore accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The estate has said that the investments are legal.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Formula One champion

Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton reportedly avoided taxes on his private jet through an elaborate tax avoidance scheme, according go the Paradise Papers. The leaked documents show that Hamilton received a £3.3 million tax refund in 2013 after his plane was imported to the Isle of Man, a low tax British dependency located off the western coast of England.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Germany's former chancellor

Gerhard Schröder, leader of Germany from 1998 to 2005, was named for his management role at the Russian-British energy firm TNK-BP in 2009. The company was registered in the tax haven British Virgin Islands. In 2013, TNK-BP was bought by Russian energy giant Rosneft — where Schröder is now the independent director of the board.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Colombia's president caught

According to the papers, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is listed as the director of two offshore companies in Barbados. He previously claimed to have severed ties with them in 2000 when he became minister of finance.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Not all of the revelations in the Paradise Papers necessarily detail illegal activity. But they do shed light on some of the strange investments and luxurious possessions of the world's elite, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's yacht. Besides Microsoft, other US companies like Apple, McDonald's, Facebook and Walmart were found to have ties to Appleby.

Global elite named in Paradise Papers

Madonna medical supplies

One of the odd investments listed in the Paradise Papers is singer Madonna's stake in a medical supply firm. Actress Keira Knightley was also found to have stock in a Jersey-based real-estate firm.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office told the AFP news agency that the investigation was targeting clients and tax advisers rather than the banks.

The probe began based on evidence in the "Panama Papers," a collection of documents released by a group of investigative journalists in early 2016 that showed how politicians and celebrities evaded tax in the central American country.

Wednesday's raids followed similar searches at Deutsche Bank in November. Officials inspected bank documents in connection with allegations that some employees had helped people create letter-box firms in tax havens to evade German tax.

Governments in 22 countries have collected more than $1.2 billion (€1 billion) in unpaid tax and fines based on the "Panama Papers," the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said last month.

amp/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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