Thursday, July 12, 2012

French banks promise to shun tax havens, then deepen their involvement

From CCFD-Terre Solidaire:
When French regions are better at imposing transparency than the G20

What happened since 2009, when the G20 countries declared war on tax havens and French banks announced their withdrawal from these territories?

Officially, the problem has been solved as banks gradually close their subsidiaries in the territories blacklisted by the French government (only eight territories whose weight is lower than 0, 1% of global offshore finance in 2012).

In a new report released July 12, 2012, CCFD-Terre Solidaire shows that, in contrast to what these sensational announcements suggested, the presence of French banks in tax havens has increased, especially for BNP-Paribas and Société Générale (in absolute number) as well as Crédit Agricole (as a percentage.) The seven French banks studied account for 547 subsidiaries in tax havens, in the territories listed by the Financial Secrecy Index of 2009 by the Tax Justice Network (nearly 21% of the total number of their subsidiaries). For example, they have 24 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, 12 in Bermuda, 19 in Switzerland, 29 in Hong Kong and 99 in Luxembourg.

Rather than debate endlessly on which reference list should be used, banks should explain this disturbing concentration of subsidiaries in those secrecy, poorly regulated and low tax jurisdictions. If they have nothing to hide then they should be able to publish accurate information about their activities, in each country where they operate, such as the list of subsidiaries, the number of employees, turnover, profits and taxes paid. This way, tax administrations would be able to detect shadow companies and empty shells that record profits artificially made in normal-tax countries, particularly in France or the developing countries.

With the exception of the Credit Coopératif, banks did not respond precisely to questions raised by CCFD-Terre Solidaire in the letters sent in preparation of this report. They also pretend to ignore the requests of French regional authorities that have adopted transparency rules more ambitious than those of the G20 or the French State. Eighteen of them are indeed involved in the fight against tax havens and eleven require disclosure of detailed information on the activities of all their subsidiaries country by country.

Even more worrying, executives of BNP-Paribas and Société Générale have remained very elusive not to say contradictory during their hearings before the Senate Investigating Committee on tax evasion last April.

CCFD-Terre Solidaire expects the report of the Senate inquiry - to be published in a few days – to recommend concrete measures to require transparency from the main users of tax havens.
To be more effective in the fight against tax avoidance, CCFD-Terre Solidaire also relies on the mobilisation of a growing number of local authorities and on the 70 newly elected MP’s as well as the President who have all made commitments in response to the “Pacte pour une Terre solidaire” carried by the Association during the 2012 election campaign.
The report's summary is available in French here, with the full report here.

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