Largest German bank’s Singapore unit helped birth companies and trusts in tax havens
Germany’s largest financial institution, Deutsche Bank, helped its customers maintain more than 300 secretive offshore companies and trusts through its Singapore branch, an investigation by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, German public broadcaster NDR and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has found.
More than 100 customer consultants at Deutsche Bank Singapore helped create or manage 309 offshore entities for its customers in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens, according to secret records obtained by the news organizations.
Most of the companies carry fantasy names like “Thrilling Returns Incorporated,” “Amazing Opportunity Limited” or “Market Dollar Group Limited.” Public sources don’t show any business activities for most of these companies.
Deutsche Bank registered the entities with the help of Portcullis TrustNet, an offshore services provider headquartered in Singapore. Many companies list Deutsche Bank subsidiary Regula Limited as their directors.
A Deutsche Bank spokesman in Frankfurt declined to answer a detailed list of questions from NDR and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, but gave general comments.
“Deutsche Bank is not offering any tax advice or any service offering registration of companies in tax havens,” the spokesman wrote. The spokesman said Deutsche Bank takes “extensive precautions to obstruct the misuse of the bank’s products and services for money laundering,” but did not offer further details.
A brochure available on the Internet from Deutsche Bank’s Private Wealth Management unit advertises “the creation, management and administration” of “trusts, companies, foundations” in several countries.
Private banking units of the world’s largest banks often use offshore havens to serve their “high net worth” clients and solicit deposits from customers across national borders.
A study last year by James S. Henry, former chief economist at global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, charges that giant private banking units seek to “entice the elites of rich and poor countries alike to shelter their wealth tax-free offshore, usually in contravention of these home countries’ laws.”
Deutsche Bank’s private banking operations ranked No. 6 among the world’s largest private banks, increasing their assets under management from $180 billion in 2005 to $367 billion in 2010, according to the study, which Henry did for the Tax Justice Network, an international group that’s critical of the offshore system.
Overall, assets under management by the globe’s 50 largest “private banks” grew from more than $5 trillion to more than $12 trillion over the same period.
Frank Wehrheim, the former head of the tax investigation unit in German financial hub Frankfurt, charged that big banks such as Deutsche Bank are responsible for “aiding and abetting tax fraud, money laundering and similar crimes.” Because of complex structures in tax havens, tax investigators can “very rarely look into these acts,” Wehrheim said.
Heinzle is an editor with the investigative unit of the radio news channel NDR Info. Guertler and Fuchs are reporters with the investigative team of NDR TV. Brinkmann and Giesen write for Sueddeutsche Zeitung.