* Tax office says 20 firms given Friday deadline
* Liechtenstein taken off tax haven blacklist in 2009
* Has similar secrecy laws to Switzerland
ZURICH/WASHINGTON, March 27 U.S. prosecutors
have asked Liechtenstein to hand over data on foundations and
other financial vehicles as part of their investigation into tax
evasion by wealthy Americans.
Roughly 20 Liechtenstein-based fiduciary firms have been
given a Friday deadline to tell U.S. officials how many
Americans maintained financial ties in the principality, Katja
Gey, head of Liechtenstein's office for international tax
matters, said on Wednesday.
Liechtenstein, with similar secrecy laws to larger neighbour
Switzerland, has long prospered by offering secretive
foundations and trusts through firms known as fiduciaries.
It was removed from a global blacklist of uncooperative tax
havens in 2009, having agreed to help to hunt down tax dodgers
after leaked data in 2008 showed hundreds of wealthy Germans had
hidden assets in the tiny country.
Gey did not disclose the period that the United States is
investigating, but Swiss media have reported that it is from
A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department declined to
comment on Wednesday on the information requests.
It is up to the fiduciaries - the identities of which have
not been disclosed - to decide whether to hand over the data,
SWISS BANK INVESTIGATION
From Americans coming forward during a tax amnesty, the
United States has received information about how Swiss banks and
Liechtenstein collaborated to hide undeclared funds held by
wealthy Americans, Swiss newspapers Tages-Anzeiger and Neue
Zuercher Zeitung reported on Wednesday.
Swiss banks have long worked closely with Liechtenstein,
traditionally known as a provider of foundations and other
vehicles that have been used to hide undeclared funds.
The move by the United States represents a new line of
attack in a long-running investigation into more than a dozen
Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer
, alleged to have aided U.S. tax dodgers with hidden
Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin & Co, was fined nearly
$58 million this month after it admitted to helping wealthy
Americans evade taxes.
The latest tax crackdown comes several years after U.S.
authorities extracted an admission of wrongdoing from UBS
that was accompanied by the release of thousands of
sets of client data plus a $780 million payment by UBS to avert
Through information gleaned from UBS and thousands of
so-called voluntary disclosures by one-time Swiss banking
clients in the United States, officials there were able to mount
the second wave of investigation into Swiss banks.
Liechtenstein can sometimes be a gateway for U.S. taxpayers
to hide money elsewhere in the world, said Scott Michel, a tax
lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale in Washington.
He said the information requests were likely intended to
help U.S. officials find not only Americans with ties to
Liechtenstein, but also "enablers," such as accountants, lawyers
and investment advisers, based in that country "who may have
helped Americans hide money."