German court dismisses bankers’ appeal in tax evasion case

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s top court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by two British bankers over their conviction in a massive tax evasion case, confirming that the so-called cum-ex transactions they used were illegal.

The Federal Court of Justice also confirmed that the seizure of 14 million euros ($16.5 million) from one of the defendants and about 176 million euros ($207 million) from Hamburg-based private bank M.M. Warburg was justified.

The ruling sets a key precedent for future trials in the “cum-ex” scandal involving hundreds of suspects.

The two British bankers were convicted last year of multiple counts of tax evasion between 2007 and 2011. They were given suspended sentences after agreeing to provide detailed information about the fraud scheme, in which participants swapped shares to collect reimbursement for taxes they hadn’t paid.

The defendants had claimed during their trial that they had simply used a loophole in the law. But federal judges concluded that the scheme was illegal and there was “no doubt the actions had been premeditated,” the court said.

Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, welcomed the ruling, saying the court had confirmed the long-standing position of tax authorities that the practice was illegal.

Scholz, who is running as the center-left Social Democrats’ candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor in the Sept.26 election, has faced criticism for his handling of cum-ex cases while he was mayor of Hamburg. Political rivals had accused him of failing to put sufficient pressure on M.M. Warburg in 2016 to repay the tax refunds it wrongfully received.

But the 63-year-old told Brigitte magazine that he had a “clean conscience” on the issue, and predicted there would be many more prosecutions in future. Hundreds of bankers allegedly were involved in the scheme and reportedly defrauded taxpayers of billions of euros.

M.M. Warburg said the verdict would have “no economic consequences” for the bank.

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