French bankers try to reassure Senate over tax havens

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[May 25, 2016]  PARIS (Reuters) - Executives at Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas sought on Wednesday to convince lawmakers they were taking sufficient steps to prevent French customers from using blacklisted tax havens.

French banks have been thrust to the fore of a controversy over the use of secretive tax havens since an investigative news syndicate exposed the activities of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.

"If we take ... all territories where the Mossack Fonseca worked for us, we have 80 so-called offshore structures, none of which (is) linked to a French resident," Philippe Brassac, chief executive officer of Credit Agricole, told the French Senate.

Brassac said Credit Agricole no longer planned to deal with offshore structures, even in cases where the bank was sure such dealings were legal.

"We want to be present in international private banking only in countries that are engaged in automatic exchange of information," he said, referring to nations that routinely share tax information.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer of BNP Paribas, Jacques D'Estais, said that since 2013 his bank no longer opened accounts for the offshore structures of French fiscal residents.

BNP Paribas has demanded fiscal compliance declarations from all clients who are residents of France, European Union or OECD countries since 2013.

Jacques D'Estais also said BNP was closing a branch in the Cayman Islands.

"The branch of Bank of the West is inactive," Jacques D'Estais told the Senate.

Earlier in May, the United Nations named the Cayman Islands along with the British Virgin Islands as British tax havens that had received some $72 billion of company funds last year.

(Reporting by Julien Ponthus and Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Mark Potter)

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