German authorities have raided Freshfields' Frankfurt office a second time.
The latest raid, like the one last October, is understood to have focused on the firm's work for Maple Bank, a Canadian lender whose German arm was shut down shortly after German authorities began investigating it for dividend stripping.
Dividend stripping is a tax minimisation strategy which involved duplicating tax refunds on certain types of share deals, and has been declared illegal in Germany. Investigations into the €12 billion tax dodge have ensnared dozens of blue chip institutions in Germany including Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank. BlackRock had its office in Munich raided, while executives at Australian bank Macquarie have been targeted in Cologne.
Two Freshfields partners and a tax specialist are under the microscope, according to German reports, but the firm declined to name them. In a statement it confirmed that the raid occurred, but rejected suggestions it had been involved in anything illegal. “We remain convinced that our advice was legally sound. It was always in keeping with the current state of the law," said a spokesman. "We look forward to any court case with complete confidence.”
But every cloud has a silver lining. A few weeks after the first raid Freshfields launched a dawn raid app. ‘Antitrust 101’, listed as suitable for ages four and up, is ostensibly for clients, but there’s surely no reason why staff in Germany can’t use it too.
And the Germans do keep coming for Freshfields over its dividend stripping advice. It was criticised by a German parliamentary committee for promoting the practice after it was known to be under investigation, and subjected to legal action in Germany's Federal Fiscal Court in 2016 after it refused to yield up documents. The firm was exonerated.
Not wanting to be dramatic or anything, but if Freshfields itself is prosecuted in Germany, wouldn't that be incredibly serious?