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France

French press review 9 November 2017

media

More hell for the rich and famous as the Paradise Papers saga rolls on. Several French billionaires are among the latest to have their tax optimisation strategies brought to light. How is Emmanuel Macron preparing for upcoming European, local and regional elections? And how is Facebook fighting the internet scourge known as revenge porn?

Le Monde continues to grind out unshocking revelations about the efforts of the very rich to avoid paying tax.

Currently going through the media mincer, Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France, he who owns the luxury bag and fizzy drinks consortium LVMH.

It turns out that Bernard lives in Nyn Park in London, a suburban house and estate of 129 hectares that he doesn't own. Legally, the house and gardens are the property of a company registered in the Channel island of Jersey. When Le Monde asked Bernard Arnault if the French tax authorities knew he was the real owner, the poor man dropped the phone. No comment.

Arnault's boat, a 101-metre ocean-going luxury hotel called Symphony, also strikes a few flat notes according to the Paradise Papers revelations.

Symphony isn't legally the property of Bernard Arnault either. The naval jewel actually belongs to Sonata Yachting Limited, a company based in Malta. Bernard rents the vessel from them when he wants to splash about a bit. Which is all above the waterline. Except that Bernard appears to own the company which owns the boat, so he's really renting it from himself. With the advantage that he doesn't have to declare Symphony for wealth tax purposes and will also avoid the Macron administration's proposed tax on luxury cars, boats and airplanes. Clever, eh?

Clearly being rich is a complicated business. Le Monde says Bernard Arnault makes use of eight different advisory companies to place his wealth in no fewer than six separate tax havens.

Serge Dassault leaps to his own defence

You won't find any of this unsavoury bashing of the fabulously fortunate on the front page of Le Figaro.

Bernard Arnault is, after all, a good friend of Serge Dassault, the millionaire arms manufactuer who owns the conservative daily and was fined two million euros for tax evasion earlier this year.

Dassault, incidentally, is one of the Paradise Papers stars, having Falcon aircraft made here in France registered in the Isle of Man. That enabled one Russian client, for example, to avoid paying 18.5 million euros in VAT to the French authorities. Dassault Aviation says it does nothing illegal and set up seven companies in the Isle of Man in 2008 simply to help clients who were struggling because of the global recession.

In fairness, this story is reported by Le Figaro itself. As are the financial woes of Shakira, Bono, Madonna, Queen Liz, the French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

Bernard Arnault comes in at the very end, assuring right-thinking, right-wing readers that everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion, that the bag man has not gleaned any tax advantage from the way he owns his London house and Maltese boat, and that he personally and his companies pay more than one billion euros in French tax every year.

And now, for something completely different . . .

The right-wing paper gives the top spot to the forthcoming local and European elections, a crucial test of the presidency of Emmanuel Macron because he needs to spread his power network down into the grassroots of French politics.

The president, we are told, may decide to push the local polls back by a year. The next elections are due in 2020 but could well be held over until the departmental and regional elections, one year later. There's no legal obstacle. And three for the price of one might do something to boost voter interest. There's also the fact that the extra 12 months will allow time for some of the president's reforms to begin taking effect.

The European date with destiny is unavoidable.

That's in 2019. But that doesn't mean Macron's men are not having a serious go at making some changes. Currently leading the field is a proposal to have a single nationwide list of candidates, as opposed to the current 13 regional lists.

Le Figaro says the proposal might look purely technical. It is, in fact, a piece of tactical genius since it would deepen the crisis already ravaging the Socialists and the Republicans and leave Macron as the sole serious pro-European voice against the braying of the far-right National Front and Jean-Luc Mélenchon's hard left.

Facebook's peculiar cure for revenge porn

Le Monde's new technology pages look at a remarkable proposal by Facebook in Australia to counter the growing abuse of social media known as "revenge porn".

It is the practice of publishing naked and otherwise intimate images of a former partner without that person's consent. Now Facebook and the Australian internet safety commission have combined to come up with a scheme that is, perhaps, less daft than it sounds at first.

Basically, if you fear you might become the victim of a revenge porn attack, you have to send your naked photos to Facebook yourself. They will then set up a system which will enable the network to block the photos if a third party attempts to publish them.

First you have to register with the safety commission. Then you send your dubious photos to your own Facebook account and the commission will warn the social network that you have done this. Facebook will then scan the image to create a digital fingerprint. If the same photo then arrives from a third source, Facebook's computers will block its publication.

The internet giant assures clients that their images will not be held on the system, except as a mathematical jumble comprehensible only to a computer.

The method is currently being tested.

Critics point to several problems, not least the difficulty many web-users would have voluntarily sending their hot photos to Facebook. And what if the pictures are exclusively in the partner's possession?

Facebook is already using a similar system to prevent the republication of revenge porn images, without the involvement of the victim.

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