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Liechtenstein

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Liechtenstein > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings

Editorial

Doing Business in … Liechtenstein

Contributed by Gasser Partner

Country report

Liechtenstein is a microstate located in the heart of Europe counting not more than 38,000 inhabitants. It is Europe’s third tiniest state – after the City of Vatican and San Marino – but nonetheless a thriving country enclosed between Switzerland and Austria. It provides an excellent business environment for foreign investors by benefitting from both neighbouring countries as well as its access to both the Swiss market as well as the European Economic Area. It is a highly developed spot for specialised industries, sophisticated banking and financial services for international clients.

Although well-known for its banking and financial sector, Liechtenstein is an innovative and export-oriented industrial location. Liechtenstein’s liberal approach allows low-hassle cross-border trade for most entrepreneurs. The legal system makes the most of various agreements to provide an excellent environment for exporters, with entrepreneurs’ and multinationals’ work further simplified by public investment in innovation and export. Latest statistical data indicate that export has risen up to 11% compared to 2017.

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Legal market overview

Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s financial centres, with a niche in private banking and life insurance services. Its economy is dominated by foreign investment trusts and foundations, which are catered to by the Principality’s highly specialised local law firms. The country acts as a bridge for financial institutions between Switzerland (with which it has a customs union) and the EU – based on a number of bilateral passporting, taxation and saving agreements. According to the Liechtenstein Office of Statistics, 61% of the local population are employed in the banking and financial services industries, and accounts for 24% of the jurisdiction’s gross output.

For the last decade, private-banking institutions have attracted increased scrutiny in the media and from financial regulators and governments, which was additionally fuelled by the Panama Papers and subsequent scandals, as well as a more critical public opinion throughout the EU. During this time, the number of foreign investors involved in Liechtenstein’s trusts is estimated to have halved. There has been a concerted effort by law-makers to reinvent the jurisdiction as a modern and transparent banking destination, through a ‘clean money’ strategy. As of 2009, Liechtenstein has initiated a network of double tax treaties, incorporating OECD and EEA standards on tax transparency and information exchange – notably with a number of other low-tax jurisdictions – that have tentatively renewed investor confidence, and satisfied global regulators.

Amongst the new regulatory measures is the OECD’s Common Reporting Standards agreement, which was signed into law in 2017, with the first exchange of information expected in 2019 for the reporting year starting on 1st January 2018. The EU/EEA’s General Data Protection Regulation will be implemented in 2018, with consequences for the way personal data is handled. Local law firms work closely with the domestic financial regulator and hence are well placed to advise clients on the rapidly changing regulatory environment.

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