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CORRUPTION

France turns up heat on Austria over tax havens

France turned up the heat on Austria Thursday, with French Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve saying that it could be placed on a French list of non-cooperative countries if lawmakers do not agree to an automatic exchange of information aimed at combating tax evasion.

France turns up heat on Austria over tax havens
French President François Hollande shakes hands with Austrian Chencellor Werner Faymann in October 2012. Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP

Cazeneuve told the state-owned radio France Info: "It is not normal that countries like Austria for example do not communicate information they have regarding European Union citizens who have accounts there.

"If these countries do not cooperate, if there is not a convention covering an information exchange that allows for total transparency within the European Union, these countries run the risk of being on the list of non-cooperative states and territories," Cazeneuve said.

Austria is the last EU member to resist lifting bank secrecy policies, after Luxembourg said Wednesday that it would implement rules allowing for the exchange of account information starting in 2015.

Cazeneuve was named French budget minister on March 19 to replace Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned as it emerged that he had maintained a non-declared bank
account in Switzerland.

On Wednesday, President Francois Hollande unveiled a series of proposals aimed at reinforcing transparency in the banking sector and said that France would establish a list each year of tax havens.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann huffed that his country has no need for "unsolicited advice from the outside" in comments to appear in Friday's edition of the daily Kurier.

"We will find a solution concerning the exchange of data," he reassured the daily. "We must put fighting tax evasion at the top" of our priorities.

A French list of non-cooperative countries and territories (NCST) has in fact existed since 2010, and its latest update in April 2012 contained eight names, down from 18 in the original version.

At present, Botswana, Brunei, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, Montserrat, Nauru, Niue and the Philippines are considered by Paris to be uncooperative in the fight against tax fraud.

Leading European countries have called meanwhile for a continental version of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which obliges foreign countries to reveal information on the investments and revenues of US citizens abroad.

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CORRUPTION

Bolloré hits back at ‘condescending treatment of Africans’

French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has gone on the offensive over corruption charges brought against him over his business dealings in Africa, claiming the case was rooted in prejudice about the continent.

Bolloré hits back at 'condescending treatment of Africans'
Conakry, the port in Guinea at the centre of the graft accusations. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP
In an opinion article published on Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the head of the Bolloré Group, who was charged in connection with the awarding of two lucrative port concessions in West Africa, said the continent was wrongfully portrayed in France as a “land of misrule, even corruption”.
   
“People imagine heads of state deciding by themselves to award huge contracts to unscrupulous investors,” he wrote. 
   
Investigating magistrates on Thursday charged the 66-year-old over allegations that his group's communications arm undercharged the presidents of Guinea and Togo for work on their election campaigns as sweeteners for contracts to operate Conakry port and Lomé port.
   
Defending himself against the claims, Bolloré wrote: “Who could imagine that a few hundred thousand euros in spending on communications, which were accounted for in a transparent manner… determined hundreds of millions of euros in investment in port operations that require significant technical know-how, obtained through international tenders?”
   
Bolloré, one of France's most powerful businessmen, sits at the head of a sprawling business empire with revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.4 billion) in 2017 and interests in everything from construction and logistics to media, advertising and agriculture.
   
Africa accounts for about 20 percent of its turnover, excluding the Vivendi media group which is controlled by the family-run Bolloré Group.
 
France 'will need Africa'
 
In the letter titled “Should we get out of Africa?”, Bolloré said the French investigation had made him question whether he should pursue his activities on the continent, where he had invested 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).
   
“I have realised over the past few days that what we have been doing in good faith for a long time, seen through the prism of those who consider the continent to be run by lawless people, is fertile ground for legitimate  suspicion,” he wrote.
   
Slamming the “inaccurate and condescending treatment of Africans” he warned that “soon, France will need Africa more than the other way round.”  
 
The nearly 200-year-old Bolloré Group operates a dozen container ports in Africa and has stakes in several others, along with three railway concessions and interests in palm oil production.
   
Its communications arm Havas worked on Guinean President Alpha Condé's winning 2010 election campaign.
   
Months after taking office, Condé terminated the contract of Conakry's existing port operator and gave it to rival Bolloré. Havas also worked on the communications strategy of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.
   
After Gnassingbe's re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract. Both decisions were challenged by other bidders.
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