France’s new budget minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Tuesday asked media organisations involved in a global “Offshore Leaks” probe on tax havens to hand over any evidence they have to the judiciary.
The call comes as the French government scrambles to contain a tax fraud scandal triggered by Cazeneuve’s predecessor Jerome Cahuzac, who admitted last week to having an undeclared bank account containing some 600,000 euros ($770,000).
“I ask the press that says it has elements and files (on the “Offshore Leaks probe) to be willing to give them to the judiciary so that it can do its job,” Cazeneuve said in parliament.
The tax fraud scandal rocked the Socialist government, and was made worse by revelations that President Francois Hollande’s former campaign treasurer had been a partner in two firms based in the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven.
This revelation was part of the wide-ranging “Offshore Leaks” probe into the secret world of tax havens, conducted by 36 international media and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The ICIJ managed to obtain a cache of 2.5 million files that “cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over.”
It then asked journalists at leading media organisations such as “Le Monde” to sift through the information. According to the French newspaper, 130 French people are on the “Offshore Leaks” blacklist.
Other high-profile names include the eldest daughter of late Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos, Tony Merchant — one of Canada’s top class-action lawyers — and the wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov.
Cazeneuve also said in parliament that no amnesty would be granted “to those who have opened their account abroad and who could be tempted to come back if they were guaranteed clemency and leniency from the state.”
Critics have rounded on Hollande and his ministers over the scandal, accusing them of either trying to cover it up or of mismanagement for having believed Cahuzac’s denials.
In a bid to calm the situation, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced Monday that ministers would declare all their assets publicly by April 15, and many have already done so.
The government will also put forward a law on financial transparency among ministers and other top officials by April 24, with plans for it to be adopted by the summer.