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German Fashion Store Owner Says Raided in UBS Tax Probe

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Albert Eickhoff, the owner of a luxury fashion retailer in Dusseldorf, is among scores of UBS AG clients targeted in a German tax-evasion probe that led to nationwide raids.

Eickhoff, 76, said he’s among the suspects in the probe by prosecutors in Bochum, Germany. Investigators said yesterday they raided the homes and offices of about 100 UBS clients to look into allegations they may have hid money in Swiss bank accounts to evade German taxes.

“They came to me and looked around in my house for about half an hour and later also in my office,” Eickhoff said in an interview today. “They didn’t confiscate anything.”

German authorities have bought compact discs with account data for people who put money in Swiss or Liechtenstein banks, leading to probes of thousands of potential German tax cheats. Former Deutsche Post AG Chief Executive Officer Klaus Zumwinkel in January 2009 received a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a 1 million-euro ($1.27 million) penalty for tax evasion.

The North-Rhine Westphalia finance ministry said last week more than 7,100 citizens in the German state have reported themselves as tax evaders since 2010. German authorities have spent 9 million euros to buy disks with bank-account data, leading to more than 3 billion euros in additional tax payments nationwide, the ministry said in September.

Tax Accord

Eickhoff said he asked UBS in June to close his accounts and have the outstanding tax paid. The bank didn’t do so, he said, because it thought it advisable to wait until a planned tax accord between German and Switzerland that would regulate how to handle the cases takes effect.

The planned tax treaty is threatened by a veto of the upper house of Germany’s parliament, which is dominated by members who are in opposition to Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition. Wrangling over the treaty has centered on provisions for taxing assets previously hidden by Germans in Swiss bank accounts, which the opposition says are too lenient.

An official at Zurich-based UBS said the bank can’t comment on potential or existing client relationships.

Eickhoff, the founder of the Eickhoff Koenigsallee department store in Dusseldorf, discovered Gianni Versace in 1976 and organized the designer’s first fashion show. He was also the first German retailer to import clothes from Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli. His business was founded in 1961 and has annual sales of about 25 million euros, he said.

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