Citigroup says being audited in Germany over dividend trades

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - (The story was refiled to correct this March 22, 2016 story to read audited, not investigated, in the headline and paragraph 1)

A Citigroup office is seen at Canary Wharf in London, Britain May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Citigroup C.N is being audited by German tax authorities over an equity trading strategy known as "cum-ex," or "dividend stripping," the U.S. bank said on Tuesday.

Dividend stripping involves buying a stock just before its dividend rights expire, then selling it, taking advantage of a now-closed legal loophole that allowed both buyer and seller to claim tax credits.

“Citi’s Germany unit has never been trader, broker or structurer of cum-ex trades,” a Citi spokesman in Frankfurt said. He said the bank did act as a settlement agent for clients’ trades, but only supplied its infrastructure had no knowledge of the actual trades being carried out.

German daily Handelsblatt corrected a March 22 report that said the Frankfurt tax office had asked for 706 million euros ($791.07 million) in back taxes from Citigroup over dividend-stripping transactions.

“This sum is no longer a topic of discussion between the bank and the German tax authorities and no tax or payment demand has been made by the authorities,” the magazine said.

A number of large banks have already paid hundreds of millions of euros in back taxes and tens of millions to settle disputes with German authorities.

Citigroup and several of its subsidiaries are on a list of about 130 banks which have allegedly been involved in cum-ex trades.

German financial watchdog Bafin is surveying the country’s 1,800 lenders to see if they are at risk from potential demands for back taxes from “cum-ex” trades.

Bafin last month closed the German operations of Canada’s Maple Financial on impending financial over-indebtedness related to tax evasion investigations.

($1 = 0.8925 euro)

Reporting by Arno Schuetze. Editing by Jane Merriman