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Underworld: The lure of a Liechtenstein bank account

Banks, secrets and privacy.

Bashfulness of one kind or another may have been one reason Kamprad amassed the fortune in his Liechtenstein foundation. In Sweden, like in Finland and Norway, everyone's income tax records are posted for all to see on the internet every year. But Kamprad said the arrangement— revealed by a joint journalistic investigation by SVT, Veckans Affarer and Smalandsposten in January — helped make "tax efficiency" part of the company's low-cost culture.

But someone with less money to move around could still make use of a Liechtenstein account.

The LGT adviser said someone of modest means might create an Anstalt, or "establishment.” The purpose of the Anstalt, which would be opened by a local lawyer, would be the "asset management of the money you have here." The tax would be a fixed sum of 1,200 Swiss francs ($1,250) a year, no matter how much the establishment earned. With lawyers’ fees, the establishment would cost a rather onerous 7,000 Swiss francs a year, on top of a set-up cost of about 6,000 Swiss francs.

It is difficult for outsiders to find out who is the real owner of an Anstalt. So, for those prepared to risk prosecution, Liechtenstein banks and corporate structures still offer the chance to make the laws of their own land hard to apply.

"Foreign government agencies can't just say: 'Give me a list of all British citizens who have bank accounts in Liechtenstein,'" said Gey.

But are Liechtenstein banks completely riddled with dirty and undeclared money? What exactly is in all those black attache cases being carried around by the men in suits?

"There is absolutely no reason to presume that just because a country is small that it is inherently more valuable to money launderers. Indeed, the opposite is true," said Morris-Cotterill. "For the easiest place to put your dirty money, try London or Delaware. Frankfurt is quite easy, Tokyo's no problem."

Even Shaxson, whose book focuses on a variety of pint-sized tax havens, agrees they are probably not the biggest players, "Tax havens are not just these small Caribbean islands, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. They are, most importantly, [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries like the U.K., U.S., Luxembourg and Ireland. These are the world's most important tax havens."

A WikiLeaks release in the coming weeks may show that an as-yet-unnamed major U.S. bank offers a welcome even warmer than those offered by banks in Liechtenstein.

"I could set up a bank account in the U.S. in half-an-hour," said Morris-Cotterill, on the phone from Kuala Lumpur, "I could not do that in Liechtenstein."