Hundreds of Super Rich Under Investigation

Senate committee wants to question secret account holders and bank officials.

ByABC News
July 16, 2008, 4:33 PM

July 16, 2008— -- Hundreds of rich Americans whose names and secret foreign bank account information were turned over to US tax authorities could face criminal prosecution. A Senate committee is scheduled to convene tomorrow and among those called to testify are foreign bank account holders, including one of the wealthiest men in Los Angeles.

48 year-old Peter Lowy and his family own the giant Westfield shopping center fortune and will control the retail space in the rebuilt World Trade Center in New York. Bob Bennett, a lawyer for Lowy, who is a prominent contributor to both Democratic and Republican candidates, told ABC News that Lowy's name was on the list of secret accounts from a Liechtenstein bank but that Lowy did nothing wrong.

Bennett said Lowy is out of the country tomorrow and will not be available to testify.

For years, the LGT Bank in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein, tucked between Austria and Switzerland, has been regarded as a safe haven for wealthy Americans trying to hide their money from the IRS. It helps that the reigning prince there, Hans-Adams II, and his family own the bank and strictly enforce the country's bank secrecy laws.

"Liechtenstein is regarded as one of the most secretive places in the world," said John Christensen of the London-based Tax Justice Network.

But all that changed when a disgruntled computer technician at LGT, Heinrich Kieber, downloaded all the names and secret accounts on to two CDs and turned them over to tax authorities in the US and Europe.

"It completely exposed the fact that Liechtenstein is nothing but a place to hide your money from tax collectors, and any other police who might be interested," said Kieber's Washington-based attorney Jack Blum. Kieber is now wanted in Liechtenstein for violating bank secrecy laws there, but his attorney says it is the tax cheats that are the real criminals.

"They are the people who are taking advantage of the rest of us, who are withholding and paying," said Blum. "They're the crooks."