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France

French press review 6 November 2017

media

The French papers, like their counterparts around the globe, are having a field day with the first revelations gleaned from the "Paradise Papers", the leaked accounts of the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby. It turns out that a lot of famously upright people have been stashing the cash beyond the reach of the taxman. Now, there's a surprise!

Le Monde is very excited about the Paradise Papers, those millions of leaked documents that prove, shock! horror!, that the rich and famous have been hiding billions in offshore accounts in order to avoid paying tax. Dog bites man!

The latest leak comes from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, known as the Rolls Royce of offshore finance.

If the basic story, that rich people have a tendency to keep their money as far from the taxman as possible, is not exactly news, the list of the names associated with this latest leak is certainly a Who's Who of the political and business upper crust: there are White House heavies like Rex Tillerson, the treasurer of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party, multinationals like Nike and Apple, fabulously rich French people, rotten-rich Russians, African leaders, top sportsmen, the Irish crooner Bono, and even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll of England. Now you're talkin' shock! horror!

Fiscal optimisation

The technical term is "fiscal optimisation", and what is being revealed by the Paradise Papers appears to be completely legal, unlike the Panama Papers of 18 months ago, where it was obvious that we were looking at a huge concealed industry of money-laundering and high-level tax fraud linked to arms and drug dealing.

So. The Queen and her fellow avoiders have not done anything wrong, strictly speaking. They have simply used the services and followed the advice of experts whose speciality is exploiting the loopholes in tax legislation which allow those with lots to have lots more. And don't they deserve it?

Le Figaro accompanies its report on the latest leak with a picture of the Queen of England looking slightly bewildered. Le Figaro also claims, perhaps incorrectly, that Trudeau is directly implicated.

What the queen's money was invested in

The British queen, for example, apparently invested some of her personal fortune - estimated at 563 million euros - in BrightHouse, a company which sells household goods on credit to poor families in the UK, at an interest rate of 99.9 percent. Ma'am also had an offshore interest in Threshers, a chain of local shops which went belly-up in 2009 leaving 6,000 people on the dole and the UK tax authorities 18 million pounds out of pocket.

Facebook, Twitter and the US trade minister Wilbur Ross turn out to have a series of interesting links to Russian companies, themselves linked to Vladimir Putin, with Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner sitting smiling on top of the pile. None of which will quieten the debate on Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election.

Communists chastise capitalist cheaters

Communist daily L'Humanité is as pleased as a dog with two tails: "Paradise Papers reveal tax evasion hell" is their clever and comradely headline. The communists are not interested in fine distinctions between tax evasion and fiscal optimisation. This, we are assured, is a new boulder splashing into the cesspit of international finance and is good for months of revelations about how billions of dollars are kept out of the taxman's clammy grasp.

The real problem for L'Humanité is the fact that all of this is comlpletely legal. Can we expect those who profit from the loopholes in the current system to act to improve tax collection?

From Russia with love?

Financial daily La Tribune is, for the moment anyway, most interested in the links between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, notably commerce minister Wilbur Ross's dealings with a Russian honcho, Guennadi Timchenko, a gas and petrochemicals sector operator who has been the subject of US sanctions, to say nothing of Ross and Putin's son-in-law, Kirill Chamalov.

Ross has been caught red-handed, is the normally staid paper's headline take on the situation. Washington has been quick to point out that Ross was not involved in the decision to do business with Timchenko's company, stressing that there was no US embargo at the time of the deal, any more than there are current sanctions against the Russian operation.

Ross, like the Queen and probably all the other people in Paradise, did absolutely nothing wrong. And that's what's wrong.

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