French President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday a drive to “eradicate” tax havens and restore ethics in public life in the wake of a damaging tax scandal.
Addressing the nation a week after shock revelations about the secret Swiss account of a former minister, Mr Hollande promised an “implacable” fight against fraud, greed and conflicts of interest.
Under new legislation to be presented on April 24, French banks — two of whom are accused of having helped customers stash money offshore — would be forced to publish details about all their overseas subsidiaries.
“It will not be possible for banks to hide activities in a tax haven,” he said, after leaked documents showed BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole oversee the creation of opaque offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and Singapore.
“I want Europe to realize that it must now end practices that should never have existed,” he said, warning that any country that refused to fully cooperate with France would be considered a tax haven.
He also called for an “automatic exchange of information” between European countries about the overseas income and estate of their nationals.
“That should be the rule in Europe so that we can end banking secrecy and the concealment of assets,” he said.
Mr Hollande also promised greater oversight over politicians in the wake of the scandal triggered by Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister, who was charged last week with tax fraud.
The opposition has accused him of being at best naive, at worst complicit for having initially stood by Cahuzac.
A new independent body will look into the declaration of assets and possible conflicts of interest of ministers, parliamentarians and heads of large administrations.
The assets of all ministers would be published next week, with those of parliamentarians to follow, he said.
Meanwhile, the fight against corruption would also be boosted by the creation of a prosecutor’s office specializing in tax fraud.
A wounded Mr Hollande promised “to restore the confidence of the French in those who represent them.”