French banks investigated for discrimination against US citizens

A campaign group in France has asked a Paris judge to rule on alleged discrimination by a number of online banks which, the claimants say, refused to accept account applications from US citizens.

French banks investigated for discrimination against US citizens
Photo by Fred Tanneau / AFP

The complaint was filed at a court in the French capital in July 2020, and a judicial investigation, focused on suspected acts of discrimination based on origin, ethnicity or nationality, committed between October 2018 and March 2019, opened in August the following year a judicial source confirmed to AFP.

It claims that a section of US citizens in France are being discriminated against by French banks unwilling to fall foul of the USA’s 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

The claim was filed by the Association des Américains Accidentels (AAA) which represents people who are considered to have US citizenship through being born in the USA, but have spent almost all of their life outside the US and do not consider themselves American.

However they are affected by FATCA in the same way as Americans who move to France.

“There are discriminatory practices that result from this regime,” said Antoine Vey, the lawyer for around 70 claimants, adding that banks in France are under “pressure from the United States” to transmit information. 

Its customers have faced “disappointment” when trying to open bank accounts in France or obtain loans. It is hoped this investigation will prompt “banks to change their practices”.

Many American readers of The Local have reported difficulty in opening accounts with French banks, or being threatened with the closure of their existing accounts. 

The investigation is aimed at suspected acts of discrimination based on origin, ethnicity or nationality, committed between October 2018 and March 2019, reports say.

The AAA represents the estimated 40,000 people living in France who are also, under US law, considered to be US citizens because they were born on American soil. Even if they have lived in France since early childhood and have never worked in the US, they may be subject to FATCA legislation. 

Americans are subject to income declarations and can be taxed in the US no matter where they live in the world.

A report to the National Assembly published in May 2019 said: “French establishments show a willingness to over-compliance compared to other countries. Thus the French Banking Federation reminded the rapporteurs that this is the first time that the attitude is probably due to the trauma of the fines.

“The representative of the Société Générale Group has clearly confirmed to the rapporteurs the willingness of its Boursorama platform to not accept clients from persons or entities with a profile that would have hints of ‘American-ness’.”

An earlier complaint filed in 2019 by some 300 “accidental Americans” did not lead to the opening of an investigation by the prosecutor.

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