Prosecutors in Germany have charged Ulf Johannemann, Freshfields' former Global Head of Tax, with fraud.
Johannemann left Freshfields in November shortly before he was arrested by Frankfurt police. He was initially refused bail because he was judged a flight risk, and spent four weeks in prison before German authorities released him on a EUR4 million bond.
The ex-tax chief has been charged in connection with expert opinions he gave in the 2000s endorsing the German 'Cum Ex' tax avoidance scheme. The arrangement involved treating a share as having two owners, so that both parties could receive a refund of capital gains tax which only one of them had actually paid.
The scheme signed off by Johannemann enabled Maple Bank, then a client of Freshfields, to reclaim EUR383 million in tax which it never paid. When German authorities decided the scheme was unlawful they closed down the German arm of the bank. Its liquidators sued Freshfields, which agreed to pay EUR50 million in damages to settle the claim.
Two other top firms in Germany, Hengeler Mueller and Linklaters, are reported to have refused to prepare Cum Ex opinions because they considered them legally untenable.
A tax lawyer who lost work in 2003 by refusing to endorse Cum Ex, today.
Multiple major businesses have been swept up in the investigation of the Cum Ex scandal, and the complicity of law firms and political institutions in what was once regarded as an acceptable wheeze has led to widespread media coverage in Germany, a considerable amount of which has focused on Freshfields' role.
Many more businesses than Maple Bank are understood to have also obtained Cum Ex opinions from Johannemann, and a source at one of Freshfields' competitors in the country said its German branch was awash with rumours about the possible consequences of the scandal for the Magic Circle firm. German authorities are currently investigating a second, unnamed, Freshfields partner in connection with the outlawed scheme.
Freshfields declined to comment.