Criminals have hacked the computers of a Chinese-owned bank in the European mini-state Liechtenstein and are now blackmailing account-holders, according to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

The hacking attack on Valartis Bank Liechtenstein obtained information on wealthy people both in Germany and elsewhere, the newspaper said.

Valartis Bank Liechtenstein office building. Photo: Screenshot/Company video.

The attackers are said to be demanding 10 per cent of the contents of each account in return for not revealing who owns what. The data will be published if ransoms are not paid by December 7.

UK tech journal The Register said in its report on the case that the payments were to be made by Bitcoin, allowing anonymity to payers and payees. It said that in letters which had now been taken down from the internet the criminals said they had resorted to hacking after the bank failed to pay them for security services.

According to Reuters the Chinese owners of the bank, Citychamp Watch and Jewellery Ltd, said on Tuesday that no account statements or details of assets had been leaked. It also said it had alerted affected clients to the problem.

Citychamp’s shares on the Hong Kong exchange were suspended on Monday. On Tuesday they dropped 12 per cent in resumed trading.

Liechtenstein is a self-governing principality of about 60 square miles between Switzerland and Austria. It has a flourishing financial industry and the highest GDP per head in the world. Though in the past regarded as a tax haven for the very rich, it is no longer on any of the lists of “non-cooperative” banking jurisdictions.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.