Broadcast: 06/10/2008 - Reporter: Liz Jackson
His present identity and whereabouts are mysteries to all but a select few. When he reveals his story to members of a powerful US Senate committee, he’s just a silhouette on a screen. The man who used to be known as Heinrich Kieber lives his life immersed in secrets.
Six years ago Kieber was an obscure computer technician updating systems inside LGT, a bank owned by the royal family of tiny Liechtenstein. Now he’s attracted international fame, fortune and alleged death threats as a whistleblower, after making off with 12,000 pages of LGT documents that set out its clients’ extremely private financial affairs in embarrassing and often incriminating detail.
"His revelations are explosive," sums up a US Senator. Kieber sold the data to German authorities for about $6 million. Now hundreds of Germany’s richest are being investigated for their tax affairs. Jail may await some. And a posse of western governments, including Australia, are tracking the fortunes that their wealthy citizens stashed behind the secret walls of Liechtenstein’s banks.
Four Corners tells the remarkable story of Heinrich Kieber – roguish hero to some, amoral thief to others - and the worldwide fallout from his actions.
In the US, Europe and Australia there is fresh impetus to crack down on tax havens. About 50 countries sell bank secrecy services to foreign clients in a thriving industry worth trillions – and Liechtenstein is seen as one of the worst culprits. As Four Corners reports, a rare spotlight has now been thrown on the devices Liechtenstein uses to keep its clients’ affairs away from the tax man. Many are complex; some disarmingly simple, like posting letters from neighbouring countries to avoid attention.
"Foreign clients come to Liechtenstein because they receive excellent service and excellent products here," says a Liechtenstein government spokesman, before adding, "and certainly bank-client secrecy might have been a reason." US Senate investigators have been poring through the LGT documents and interviewing witnesses – including Kieber – to claw back some of the estimated $US100 billion a year lost in US tax revenues to tax havens. About 1400 people are mentioned in the documents yet the Senate committee plucked out just seven as case studies. One of those seven dealt with an LGT account established by Australia’s Frank Lowy and his sons.
Liz Jackson’s compelling report on the opportunistic Heinrich Kieber and the mayhem he has caused for a bank and a slate of clients who treasure their privacy – "Tax Me If You Can" – airs on Four Corners at 8.30 pm Monday 6 October and about 11.35 pm Tuesday 7 October (also 8am Tuesday on ABC2).
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