February 15, 2008 / 10:14 AM / 10 years ago

Deutsche Post chief to quit amid tax-dodge probe

<p>Klaus Zumwinkel, chairman of the board of the German Post AG looks on during the annual general shareholders meeting in Cologne in this June 6, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Edgar Schoepal/Files</p>

BERLIN (Reuters) - Klaus Zumwinkel will resign as chief executive of German mail and logistics group Deutsche Post, the company said on Friday, as a tax-dodging probe threatened to ensnare more rich Germans.

The 64-year-old, a pillar of Germany’s corporate establishment who has led Deutsche Post for 18 years, came under pressure to go after prosecutors said they suspected him of dodging about 1 million euros ($1.5 million) in taxes by transferring money to tax haven Liechtenstein.

“In the interest of the company he will resign” on Monday, Deutsche Post said in a brief statement on its Web site. “The executive committee respects this decision and proposes to the supervisory board to accept.”

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told reporters Zumwinkel had admitted evading taxes. A spokesman for his ministry told a news conference that any others who thought they could be implicated in the probe should consider turning themselves in.

“I couldn’t imagine that someone who had confirmed the fact of tax evasion, who had admitted it, would remain in such important company functions,” Steinbrueck said.

Deutsche Telekom said Zumwinkel would also resign his position there, where he was supervisory board chairman.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said his departure from Deutsche Post was unavoidable, while Steinbrueck said the probe had caused considerable “moral damage”. The state is Deutsche Post’s biggest shareholder with a 31 percent stake.

Zumwinkel could not be reached by Reuters for comment.

However, commenting on his plans to resign as Deutsche Post chief, he told newspaper Bild: “I wanted to usher in a new era, but with a different changeover than has happened now.”

Zumwinkel said he would work closely with the authorities, telling Bild: “I will take an active role in clarifying the questions about my private finances.”

Hundreds more rich and prominent Germans faced a visit from police as part of the sweeping probe into offshore accounts.

LIECHTENSTEIN LEAKS

More than 100 tax-dodging suspects are likely to be raided by Monday, sources close to the investigation told Reuters, adding that about 1,000 people were under suspicion.

The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said no other board members of firms listed in the DAX, Germany’s leading share index, were targeted.

Liechtenstein-based LGT bank, controlled by the princely family in the tiny Alpine principality, said some secret data for clients of its LGT Treuhand AG trust had been passed on to outsiders after a former employee stole the files six years ago.

It said it could not confirm whether these files were linked to the current probe in Germany, and stressed that the thefts did not affect customers at parent LGT Bank or clients that did business with LGT Treuhand from 2003.

Also this week, Liechtenstein bank LLB said it had been targeted by a blackmail campaign since 2003 after an employee threatened to reveal account details of German clients.

LLB said the employee was arrested and sentenced in 2004 -- and still remains in prison -- but that an accomplice continued the blackmail campaign. One person was arrested in September and remains in investigative custody in Germany, LLB said.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Named by Manager Magazin as its 2003 manager of the year, multi-millionaire and former McKinsey partner Zumwinkel transformed Deutsche Post from a sleepy state monopoly to a global mail, logistics and finance group. He took the helm of Telekom’s supervisory board in 2003.

Zumwinkel sought to reduce Deutsche Post’s dependence on its domestic mail business by expanding its DHL express and logistics divisions and through acquisitions.

But he struggled to reverse losses at DHL Express’s business in the United States, and signaled he could sell retail bank unit Deutsche Postbank.

Logistics and mail head Frank Appel has been lined up as a successor, while analysts have said the probe could also strengthen the position of John Allan, who became finance chief last year with the task of restoring investor confidence.

A company spokesman declined to speculate on a successor, but told a news conference: “Certainly ... the owners are not in the situation where they have to look around in a hurry for a suitable external candidate. I don’t see that happening.”

Additional reporting by James Regan in Frankfurt, Sabine Siebold and Paul Carrel in Berlin, Sven Egenter in Zurich and Tom Kaeckenhoff in Duesseldorf; Editing by Quentin Webb

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