German police raided Deutsche Bank offices on Thursday, seeking evidence in a money laundering investigation into the practice of hiding money offshore to elude tax collectors and government regulators.
"Police officers and tax inspectors entered Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt early Thursday morning and seized documents," NPR's Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin. "Prosecutors are investigating two employees of the bank who allegedly assisted customers in setting up offshore firms to avoid anti-money laundering safeguards when transferring money to accounts at Deutsche Bank."
Nicholson adds, "According to investigators, in 2016 alone, more than 900 Deutsche Bank customers were served by a subsidiary registered in the British Virgin Islands."
Those 900 customers did business totaling 311 million euros (about $350 million), the Frankfurt prosecutor's office said.
The search involved some 170 officers from the prosecutor's office, the tax investigation department and the federal police, said senior public prosecutor Nadja Niesen, in an email to NPR. She added that the search resulted in the seizure of "numerous business documents" in either electronic or paper form. There have been no arrests, Niesen said.
Deutsche Bank has been fined and criticized for its poor record of preventing money laundering. As Deutsche Welle reports, "In August, it confirmed that even after it was fined for helping Russian clients wash some $10 billion, its mechanisms to stop such criminal activity were still inefficient.
In a brief statement, the bank confirmed the investigation taking place "at a number of our offices in Germany."
Without providing details about the inquiry, Deutsche Bank stated, "The investigation has to do with the Panama Papers case." It added, "We are cooperating fully with the authorities."
Later, the company said in an update, "As far as we are concerned, we have already provided the authorities with all the relevant information regarding Panama Papers."
Containing at least 2 terabytes of data, the Panama Papers — a trove of documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm — detailed how hundreds of people and businesses used offshore accounts to hide money, in a report that also named large banks such as HSBC and UBS in addition to Deutsche Bank.
In recent years, Deutsche Bank has been in the news not only for its prominence in the Panama Papers, but also for its ties to President Trump, in a tumultuous relationship that goes back some 20 years.
Trump and the bank once sued each other after he failed to repay a $300 million loan. And the author and reporter Luke Harding has described a "shuffle of money" between the bank's dealings with figures in Russia and its business with Trump.
In an interview with NPR's Fresh Air one year ago, Harding said, "While money from Deutsche Bank New York is going into the Trump Organization, Deutsche Bank in Moscow is at the center of a massive Russian money laundering operation involving about $10 billion" that allowed Russia's elites to take rubles out of Russia and convert them into dollars in the U.S.
Authorities in both the U.S. and U.K. have imposed heavy fines on Deutsche Bank for its practices involving Russian accounts, Harding said.