Princely Liechtenstein bank keen for clarity on tax

Wed Jun 12, 2013 6:13am EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

ZURICH (Reuters) - Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, chief executive of Liechtenstein's biggest bank LGT, said it was striking how fast opinions on tax evasion had shifted since 2008, when stolen data revealed hundreds of Germans had hidden assets in the principality.

But the Prince, who runs the royal-family-owned bank, is not worried by an international push to fight tax evasion and expects Swiss and Liechtenstein banks to flourish if disputes over untaxed assets are settled quickly.

"The data theft of 2008 was the first example of that change of attitude but at least it put us ahead of the game. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said in an interview.

Discussing the outlook for Liechtenstein banking over a lunch of monkfish and asparagus at a luxury Zurich hotel, Prince Max was relaxed about the future. "People are focusing on the threats but there are more chances than threats."

Secrecy has fostered an usually large banking industry in the tiny principality wedged between Austria and Switzerland, helping to make the 36,000 inhabitants of a territory slightly smaller than Washington D.C. among the world's wealthiest. The banking sector contributes about a third of national output.

But LGT was one of the first major banks to be caught up in an international clamp down on tax evasion since the financial crisis. In the lean times since then, governments from the United States to Germany and France have had to try to boost tax receipts to fill empty coffers.

LGT, which had expanded aggressively overseas, suffered a client exodus in 2008 and 2009 after it featured in a U.S. Senate report on tax evasion.

But the bank has recovered faster than LLB LLB.S and VP Bank, the country's second and third biggest banks, reporting net asset inflows of 10.5 billion Swiss francs ($11.18 billion)in 2012, taking total assets under management to 102.1 billion.   Continued...

LGT Group CEO Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein attends the annual news conference on the 2007 results in Zurich March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann