Ausgabe 9/2008

Liechtenstein's Shadowy Informant Tax Whistleblower Sold Data to the US

The shadowy informant who blew the whistle on German tax cheats also sold data to US authorities, SPIEGEL has learned. The man, who was paid almost 5 million euros for DVDs full of information, has now been given a new identity by German intelligence.


A tax evasion scandal involving shadowy foundations in Liechtenstein has gripped Germany.

A tax evasion scandal involving shadowy foundations in Liechtenstein has gripped Germany.

He was once kidnapped, the man told the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, to whom he was trying to sell several DVDs containing secret tax data.

It was in 1997, in Argentina, he told the agents. The kidnappers, he said, locked him up for 10 days and mistreated him, sometimes by burning him with lit cigarettes; he still had the scars to prove it. He told the BND that he had had to come up with the ransom money himself, and that all of his and the Liechtenstein authorities' efforts to retrieve the money have failed.

Is this why he needed so much money? And is this why he sold the DVDs to the agents for close to €5 million ($7.4 million)? And just how much credence should be given to the story of a man who steals and sells data?

There are still many unanswered questions about this man, whose actions have kept Germany enthralled for more than 10 days. Nevertheless, more and more details of the man and his negotiations with the BND are coming to light.

The identity of the informant from Liechtenstein is now known, or at least his past identity is. He used to be 42-year-old Heinrich Kieber. He now has a new name, courtesy of the German government. And he lives somewhere else, in an undisclosed location -- wealthy, but alone.

Kieber, code-named "Henry," sold the BND several DVDs with data on 1,400 Germans, many of whom had invested their money in foundations in Liechtenstein to circumvent German taxation. The name of the first of the prominent offenders was revealed last Thursday: Klaus Zumwinkel, the head of Deutsche Post World Net. But his case was only one of many investigations launched last week and of other investigations to come.

At stake are billions of euros in tax revenues lost to the German government. Also at stake is Germany's relationship with countries like Liechtenstein and Switzerland, home to banks that have offered lucrative arrangements to German tax evaders. But the Alpine tax havens are incensed over the accusations. Prince Alois, Liechtenstein's head of state, denounced the German investigation as an "unprovoked attack by a large country." Roger Köppel, the editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly newspaper Die Weltwoche, described it as a "fatwa by the German tax authorities against businesses and employees seeking to withdraw from a fundamentalist taxation system."

But for Germany the issue is much more a domestic one, as evidenced by the heated debates over the tax scandal. German politicians were quick to rush to the microphones and voice their displeasure. Kurt Beck, the head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), let it slip that he had detected "criminal behavior." Chancellor Angela Merkel characterized the situation as "difficult and depressing."

The politicians may have been in agreement, but the reality is that the DVDs will only contribute to further divisions within Germany. They have already been turned into ammunition in the political battle between the two members of Berlin's grand coalition, the SPD and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and they will shape the debates over fairness in the coming weeks and months.

None of this was foreseeable when, on Jan. 24, 2006, the BND received an email through its regular Internet address. The sender, using an alias, claimed to have secret data from Liechtenstein that he was prepared to offer the BND. The material, he wrote, related to financial investments worth €3.5 billion ($5.2 billion). He added that he was not reporting the information in return for payment, but because it struck him as deeply unfair that multimillionaires could continue to amass their fortunes without paying taxes.

The unknown whistleblower provided an address he would use to stay in touch with the agency, and on May 11, after several months of correspondence, BND agents met face-to-face with their potential informant for the first time.

The man brought along a police certificate which showed he had no prior convictions. The BND agents now knew that they were dealing with Heinrich Kieber -- but not that Kieber had, in fact, been convicted of a crime in the past.


© DER SPIEGEL 9/2008
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