BERLIN — German authorities raided the offices of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt on Thursday over money-laundering allegations. The public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt said about 170 officials were involved in searches at the company’s business offices.
The investigation is directed against two employees and other individuals who have so far not been identified. The public prosecutor’s office confirmed the investigation was based on details included in the Panama Papers, as they are known, and Offshore Leaks, a collaborative investigation between the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media outlets that revealed money-laundering practices across the globe.
“Numerous business documents” were taken during the raid, the prosecutor’s office said.
“After an evaluation of the so-called Offshore Leaks and Panama Papers,” Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office representative Nadja Niesen wrote in a statement, “the suspicion arose that Deutsche Bank AG was helping clients set up so-called offshore companies in tax havens and that money connected to crimes was transferred to the accounts of Deutsche Bank AG.”
Deutsche Bank failed to report those suspicious transactions, according to German prosecutors. They referred to a Deutsche Bank subsidiary registered in the British Virgin Islands. From there, 900 customers were allegedly served by the bank in 2016 alone.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Deutsche Bank confirmed that the raid had taken place and stressed that the bank was cooperating with authorities. “We have already provided the authorities with all the relevant information regarding Panama Papers,” Deutsche Bank said in the statement. “Of course, we will cooperate closely with the public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt, as it is in our interest as well to clarify the facts.”
In their statement, prosecutors alleged there were “sufficient indications” for the suspicious nature of those transactions before the 2016 release of the Panama Papers. Yet bank officials did not report them.
The Panama Papers scandal was sparked by a dump of millions of financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co. The documents revealed the existence of 214,488 secret offshore entities, based on financial spreadsheets, copies of passports, emails and corporate records from 1977 to 2015. The leak to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prompted the prime minister of Iceland to resign and forced then-British Prime Minister David Cameron to acknowledge he financially benefited from shares in an offshore account set up by his father.
As the breadth of the schemes became clearer, the ICIJ created a public, searchable database that revealed the names of offshore companies and individuals connected with them. A review of the documents by ICIJ and other media partners identified offshore companies created by Mossack Fonseca that were tied to at least 36 Americans accused of fraud or other serious financial misconduct.
Deutsche Bank has been struggling for some time, having been unprofitable for the past three years. Just this year, Deutsche Bank replaced its chief executive, announced thousands of job cuts and failed the U.S. Federal Reserve’s stress test. But while the news of the money-laundering investigation will be yet another blemish on the bank’s reputation, it’s not likely to have any major repercussions unless it leads to jail time for those responsible. Historically, that’s been rare, said Jimmy Gurulé, former undersecretary for enforcement for the U.S. Treasury Department and law professor at University of Notre Dame.
“This isn’t the first time Deutsche Bank has found itself under investigation . . . but the end result is what’s most important,” Gurulé said. “There’s a lack of accountability that feeds this culture of impunity where banks feel that they’re above the law. For the most part, they’re not going to get caught, and if they are caught no one will be punished, so why not bend the rules and see how far you can go?”
Telford reported from Washington.