RBS’s Coutts Denies Bin Laden Link as Tax Files Seized

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc’s Coutts & Co. unit denied any involvement in the financial affairs of Osama Bin Laden and his family as German officials seized documents from a ship in a tax-evasion probe.

Client records from the RBS private-banking arm are being reviewed by German authorities, a spokesman for the company said. The documents were said by German news magazine Focus to show links between the U.K. bank and the Bin Laden family.

“At no time have we ever looked after the financial affairs of Osama Bin Laden or his immediate family,” a spokesman for Coutts said in an e-mailed statement today. “His individual financial affairs have never been an issue or interest of Coutts.”

Authorities around the world have been probing bank records in an effort to curb tax evasion. Credit Suisse Group AG agreed last month to pay $2.6 billion in fines and pleaded guilty to helping Americans evade taxes. Last week, Belgian prosecutors charged the head of UBS AG’s local unit as part of its investigation.

The Hamburg customs seized the documents and sent them to prosecutors in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who are conducting a criminal probe into tax evasion allegations, according to a finance ministry spokeswoman in Berlin.

Spokeswomen for the Hamburg customs office and the state’s tax authorities declined to comment. Dusseldorf prosecutors, who are handling a tax evasion probe, also declined to comment.

Ship’s Journey

The ship docked in Hamburg on May 29 and returned to the seaport on June 11, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s on its way now to Kingston, Jamaica and is expected to arrive June 28.

The containers seized from the ship held documents pertaining to RBS’s sale last year of its Coutts Cayman operations, the Wall Street Journal said today, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

“We are working with the authorities to allow these papers to continue on their way,” Coutts said. The company said it wasn’t aware of any investigation its its tax affairs.

Die Welt reported that the records were seized at the end of May. Investigators took 1,000 boxes containing 14,000 documents, including information about off-shore account data of German taxpayers. At least part of the materials originates from Coutts, the newspaper reported.

Coutts & Co. was fined 8.75 million pounds ($14.9 million) in 2012 by the U.K. financial regulator for money-laundering controls that “fell well below the standards we expect,” according to a statement at the time from the Financial Services Authority, as the agency was then known.

The FSA visited Coutts’s offices in October 2010 as part of a wider review of anti-money laundering measures. The bank lacked adequate controls in about three-quarters of the “high-risk customer files” they checked to monitor the relationships and failed to carry out due diligence research on prospective customers, the FSA said.

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