Prosecutors and tax investigators carried out simultaneous raids on the headquarters of Deutsche Post in Bonn and CEO Klaus Zumwinkel's private villa near Cologne early Thursday morning. At midday Zumwinkel left his home in a police vehicle, though he was released later in the afternoon.
However, a spokesperson for the public prosecutors office in Bochum told journalists that Zumwinkel and other unnamed persons were being investigated.
"Zumwinkel is under suspicion of having evaded taxes amounting to around 1 million euros," the spokesperson said. However, he said the Deutsche Post CEO had made a statement and posted a hefty bail, leading to the suspension of an arrest warrant that had been prepared before Thursday's raid.
Tax Evasion via Liechtenstein?
Zumwinkel, who has been at the helm of Deutsche Post for 18 years, is suspected of having committed tax evasion using a foundation in Liechtenstein. SPIEGEL has learned that the self-proclaimed multimillionaire is alleged to have made use of the foundation since the mid-1980s and that investigators are looking into sums of more than 10 million euros ($14.6 million). Extensive accounts of the Liechtenstein financial institution show that Zumwinkel also considered shifting his assets to Asia or the Cayman Islands, a Caribbean tax haven.
On Thursday, Deutsche Post, which is Europe's biggest postal service, confirmed that an investigation into Zumwinkel was underway. The simultaneous raids at 7 a.m. had apparently been planned by public prosecutors and tax investigators weeks in advance -- and only few were aware of the planned operation.
The investigation has taken on a dimension previously unknown in Germany. It was the first time in history that the CEO of a German blue chip DAX company had been taken from his home by authorities in front of live news cameras.
Is Post Preparing for Life, Post-Zumwinkel?
Still, a company spokesperson said the CEO was still "fully capable" of running the business and that the Deutsche Post is operating "business as usual." But the company refused to comment on a report on the Web site of the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper that the company is already preparing for life without its longtime CEO. According to the paper, board member Frank Appel has temporarily taken over leadership of the firm and is reporting directly to the chairman of Deutsche Post's board, Jürgen Weber. Appel, 46, has been the head of the company's logistics division since 2002 and he is Zumwinkel's designated successor.
The German government is the former postal monopoly's largest shareholder, and on Thursday, politicians reacted to the development with deep concern. Rainer Wend, the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) business issues spokesman in parliament, said that while one should presume Zumwinkel's innocence, "if the suspicion is proven true, Zumwinkel cannot stay in office for a minute longer." He must be proscuted to the "fullest extent" of the law, he said. "It is incomprehensible that a multimillionaire like Zumwinkel would have to go down this path just to save a few million in taxes," he added. "If that's the case, then we have lost even more faith in our elite." The SPD is the junior partner in Germany's coalition government with Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats.
Members of Merkel's party, though, responded with reserve on Thursday. "We first want to wait and see if the allegations become more solid," said deputy floor leader Michael Meister. "We do, after all, follow the rule of law here." He called on the public prosecutor to pursue the investigation as "quickly as possible." The party's business issues spokesman, Laurenz Meyer, refused to comment on the investigation.
Zumwinkel is one of Germany's most influential businessmen. He sits on the boards of Postbank and Deutsche Telekom and has been working on plans to merge Postbank with another institution -- Deutsche Bank has been cited as one possible candidate -- in order to create a mega bank. This was intended to assure him of a brilliant end to his career. It has long been clear that the 64-year-old would give up his position at Deutsche Post at the end of 2008, when he reached retirement age.
A member of Zumwinkel's family became the focus of another tax evasion investigation last summer, after an anonymous tip-off. That investigation is also focusing on a Liechtenstein foundation.