German prosecutors raid Commerzbank in tax evasion probe

Pens with Commerzbank logo are pictured at the bank's annual news conference in Frankfurt on February 12, 2015. (REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo)
Updated 10 November 2017

German prosecutors raid Commerzbank in tax evasion probe

FRANKFURT: Germany’s Commerzbank has become the target of a tax evasion probe in which several current and former managers are suspected of evading 40 million euros ($47 million) in taxes via so-called dividend stripping.
Prosecutors said on Friday they had searched the offices of a major Frankfurt bank and private homes this week.
The bank involved was Commerzbank, according to a person familiar with the matter who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest lender, said it was cooperating with authorities.
Dividend stripping, also known as “cum-ex” transactions, involved buying a stock just before losing rights to a dividend, then selling it, taking advantage of a now-closed legal loophole that allowed both buyer and seller to claim tax credits.
Frankfurt prosecutors, together with federal crime police and tax officials, conducted the Commerzbank searches on Tuesday. They included the offices of the bank as well as the flats of three suspects in Frankfurt and nearby Hanau.
The legal news agency Juve first reported the news.
Investigations into the use of such schemes by a number of banks in Germany have been going on for several years. The practice may have cost the state billions of euros in tax over many years.
Last year, Portigon Financial Services, formed from parts of failed German lender WestLB, was searched by prosecutors as part of a probe into allegations that WestLB may have been involved in cum-ex trades..
Last month, prosecutors raided the Frankfurt offices of law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in relation to a former client’s cum-ex transactions.
A number of banks have already paid hundreds of millions of euros in back taxes and tens of millions to settle disputes with German authorities.
Last year, German financial watchdog BaFin closed the German operations of Maple Bank due to over-indebtedness relating to the tax evasion investigations.
The Commerzbank investigation focuses on five current and former employees aged between 51 and 63, as well as unknown individuals suspected of involvement in the scheme to evade 40 million euros of taxes from 2006 to 2010, prosecutors said.
The investigation also extends to unknown individuals and trades in 2008 at Dresdner Bank, which was taken over by Commerzbank in 2009. Prosecutors said the volume of those trades was more than 10 billion euros, with a further 75 million euros in evaded taxes.
In a statement on Friday, Commerzbank said it had identified cum-ex trades at Dresdner Bank that it halted upon the 2009 takeover. Commerzbank also said it conducted a voluntary investigation at the end of 2015 into all trades between 2003 and 2011 that “revealed that there were cum-ex trades at Commerzbank.”
Commerzbank said it proactively notified the authorities with the preliminary results of that investigation and is cooperating fully.
Shares of Commerzbank dipped on the news midafternoon, but recovered somewhat to trade 0.7 percent lower at 1613 GMT.

BP said to be considering sale of Mideast ‘stranded assets’

Updated 08 August 2020

BP said to be considering sale of Mideast ‘stranded assets’

  • Major oil companies typically hold assets for the long term

LONDON: BP is preparing to sell a large chunk of its oil and gas assets even if crude prices bounce back from the COVID-19 crash because it wants to invest more in renewable energy, three sources familiar with BP’s thinking said.

The strategy was discussed at a BP executives meeting in July, the sources said, soon after the oil major lowered its long-term oil price forecast to $55 a barrel, meaning that $17.5 billion worth of its assets are no longer economically viable.

But even if crude prices bounce back to $65-$70 a barrel, BP is unlikely to put those assets back into its exploration plans and would instead use the better market conditions as an opportunity to sell them, the three sources said.

Major oil companies typically hold assets for the long term, even when crude prices plunge, with a view to start bringing more marginal production online when market conditions improve.

However, BP’s new divestment strategy, which has not previously been reported, means there will be no way back for the British energy company once it has offloaded its so-called stranded oil and gas assets.

BP did not respond to requests for comment.

The new strategy also sheds more light on chief executive Bernard Looney’s plan to reduce BP’s oil and gas production by 40 percent, or at least 1 million barrels per day, by 2030 while expanding into renewable energy.

“It is a simple calculation of natural production decline and planned divestment,” said a BP source, explaining how BP became the first big oil company to pledge a large cut in its oil output.

For decades, BP and rivals such as Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil have promised investors that production would continue to rise. But as climate activists, investors, banks and some governments raise pressure on the industry to reduce emissions to help cool the planet, European oil firms are changing tack and pledging to invest more in renewable energy sources.

US rivals are under less government pressure and have not made similar commitments on renewables.

“As we look at the outlook for BP over the next few years and as we see production declining by 40 percent it is clear we no longer need exploration to fund new growth,” Looney said this week. “We will not enter new countries to explore.”

He said that BP would continue to explore for oil near its existing production infrastructure as those barrels would be low cost — and help boost BP’s cash flow to fund its transition to cleaner energy.

BP also raised its target this week for returns from asset sales to $25 billion between 2020 and 2025, of which about $12 billion has already been lined up.

Parul Chopra, analyst at Rystad Energy, said in addition to Angola, he expected BP to move out of Azerbaijan, Oman, the UAE and Iraq.