Tax evaders’ bank secrecy ‘rolled back’

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France warned tax evaders on Sunday that it was hot on their trail after securing a list of 3,000 citizens holding about €3bn in Swiss bank accounts that authorities suspect has not been declared.

“This is not an empty threat,” said Sebastien Proto, chief of staff at the budget ministry. “We are getting more and more information and protection is falling. Bank secrecy is being rolled back.”

Though the identities of account holders remain secret, people close to the matter said the list was comprised entirely of individuals with deposits in three Swiss banks.

Some of France’s wealthiest families could find themselves facing legal action if they do not declare these offshore accounts to authorities and pay penalties before a government amnesty on criminal investigations expires at the end of the year.

The revelations come as the government steps up its campaign against tax fraud and prepares yet again to call banks to account over practices in the financial services industry.

Eric Woerth, budget minister, announced in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday that the industry would be summoned to a meeting with himself and Christine Lagarde, finance minister, this week. Banks would be asked to agree to hand over information on clients who had transferred funds to countries regarded as tax havens. “We want them to collaborate with us,” Mr Proto said. “The rules have to change.”

The government said two banks operating in France had volunteered most of the information on the 3,000 account holders, while the rest came from its own tax investigation.

Officials were keen to quell speculation that France paid whistle-blowers for the names, as Germany did last year when it handed over $4.2m for information on foreign account holders in Liechtenstein.

France’s move comes just days after the government signed a tax treaty with Switzerland that will make it far easier for authorities to get information on suspected tax offenders.

It also follows the landmark agreement between Switzerland and the US, in which Bern handed over the names of 4,450 wealthy Americans holding offshore accounts at UBS, the country’s biggest bank.

France, as well as Germany, has been at the forefront of an international campaign to crack down on tax havens that has seen a growing number sign up to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s tax standards. The OECD has estimated that up to $7,000bn (€4,900bn, £4,300bn) in assets is managed from offshore tax havens.

The fight against tax havens is also part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s crusade to “moralise capitalism”. The French leader has ordered his government to accelerate initiatives to reinforce French financial regulation ahead of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh at the end of September.

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