Former bank employees have received bonuses worth millions of euros in an illegal trading scheme that also involved a tax lawyer, prosecutors in Frankfurt revealed this week. The case is part of multiple investigations carried out across Germany, the hardest hit country in a notorious tax fraud scandal known as the Cum-ex Files.
Frankfurt Fraud Costs Germany €389 Million
The six bankers got 29.5 million euros (close to $33 million) in bonuses from the alleged fraud, German prosecutors said this past Monday. The staggering numbers, mentioned in the charges filed earlier this month against the bankers and the lawyer, were made public in an announcement by the Frankfurt Prosecutor’s Office which was quoted by Reuters.
The prosecutors did not reveal the entities that employed the accused but according to sources quoted in the report, the individuals worked for Maple Bank. The Frankfurt-based financial institution collapsed in 2016 as a result of its involvement in cum-ex trades which were conducted between 2006 and 2009 and cost the state €389 million in lost taxes (more than $421M).
Two of the bankers have been in custody since their detention in December 2019 following the investigation carried out by German authorities. The tax lawyer, Ulf Johannemann, who is a former partner at the law firm Freshfields, was arrested the previous month. He has been released on a 4 million euro bail, the news agency detailed.
The case in Frankfurt, the Eurozone’s financial capital, is just one of a series of investigations in the Federal Republic into the large-scale tax scam. Participants in the fraud generated multiple tax reclaims from phantom dividends from mostly German companies. Officials insist that the scheme required intensive cooperation between big financial institutions, investors and legal experts to achieve its goals.
The Cum-Ex Files
The tax fraud in Frankfurt and other similar cases involving cum-ex deals were discovered by news organizations and tax authorities a decade later, sparking a heated debate in German society that led to the launch of a parliamentary inquiry. The government in Berlin has estimated that its losses amount to 5 billion euros but the damage may be even bigger.
Although Germany is the hardest hit country, a number of other EU member states like France, Italy, Denmark, and Belgium have been affected by the massive fraud as well. It has been estimated that a network of bankers, brokers, asset managers, consultants, investors, and lawyers managed to extract public funds worth an estimated €55 billion (over $60 billion), exploiting a legal loophole in tax laws and in particular the German tax code.
The cum-ex scheme involves the lending and trading of shares with (cum in Latin) and without (ex) dividend rights between multiple parties around the “record date,” an established quarterly date when companies determine who owns their stock and who is eligible to receive dividend. The numerous transactions make it hard for tax authorities to know who the current owner is. The rapid exchanging of shares, sold with-dividend just before record date but delivered without dividend right after, is aimed at allowing two parties to simultaneously claim ownership of the same stock, each of whom was entitled to a tax rebate and claimed refunds on taxes that had been paid only once.
It was possible to implement the scheme partially because of the way the German tax system functions. The capital gains tax is automatically deducted from all dividend payments but dividends are taxed differently depending on the status of the receiving party. While private individuals owe 25% capital gains tax on their dividends, dividend income for corporate entities such as investment companies is added to all other income and charged with 15% corporation tax on the total annual profit. Thus, institutional investors could reclaim the capital gains tax that has already been deducted.
What’s your opinion about the cum-ex fraudulent trading scheme in Europe? Share your thoughts on the scandal in the comments section below.
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