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French press review 3 November 2015

DR

To which European country should you bring your sacks of ill-gotten monies if you wish to avoid paying tax or even explaining where the cash came from? The answer is still Switzerland. And is it right for courts to use information from whistle-blowers while pursuing those same informants as criminals?

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Le Monde's economy pages look at the latest report on international fiscal probity (that's tax evasion to you and me) published yesterday by the London-based Tax Justice Network.

The report starts well, noting that in the two years since the last survey, real progress has been made and most countries have improved. The Tax Justice Network is worried, however, that the improvements are fragile and also notes several worrying tendencies.

Switzerland remains the world's most secretive tax haven, despite recent agreements to share bank details with western governments. There are no such agreements with African, Asian or South American nations, and so the Swiss system runs at two speeds, accepting relatively clean money from the rich countries but very dubious money from the poor ones.

The United Kingdom comes in a creditable 15th place, until you include the overseas territories. Then, thanks to various Caribbean islands and obscure Crown dependencies, the cross-channel neighbours rocket past the Swiss to merit top spot in the global tax cheating charts.

The crucial problem is that English judicial speciality, the Trust, a legal entity which handles money without having to identify the owners.

The US offers another case of double standards, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act squeezing the pips out of any Americans who make the odd sheckel outside Uncle Sam's jurisdiction, but turning a blind eye and a welcoming smile to foreigners who wish to stash ill-gotten billions in US banks. The Tax Justice Network report calls the USA the "black hole" for global efforts to clean up money laundering and end financial crime.

And then there's Singapore and Hong Kong, described as happy to welcome cash flows from countries where the laws are getting tougher, without asking too many questions.

Libération's main story looks back at the Luxembourg revelations which 12 months ago showed how multinationals were using the Grand Duchy's liberal fiscal regulations to avoid paying tax on their European profits. One year on, according to Libération, nothing has changed.

The left-leaning paper accuses the European Union of being evasive rather than attacking the problem head-on, and publishes an appeal signed by such luminaries as Romano Prodi, a former European Commission president, and the economist Thomas Piketty. They basically want the European member states to support the principle of "country by country accounting," which would oblige companies to publish details of their profits and tax payments in the countries where they actually make the profits.

Libération also looks at the European double standards being applied to those who reveal the existence of illegal accounting practises.

Antoine Deltour, the man who revealed the tax advantages of life in Luxembourg, risks five years in jail for failing to respect commercial secrecy. That "crime" according to the paper has already earned him the European Parliament's title of "citizen of the year" and has seen Europe successfully prosecute criminal cases against offending multinationals like Starbucks and Fiat.

This week has seen the opening of the trial in Switzerland of Hervé Falciani, similarly accused of breaching secrecy laws for his revelations of Swiss personal banking accommodations. And this, despite the fact that several European governments have used Falciani's data to initiate criminal procedings against banks and individuals suspected of fraud. France, which has refused to extradict Falciani, has used his information to investigate the HSBC and USB banks, finding both of them to be guilty of at least dubious business activities.

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