Former French budget minister Jerome Cahuzac today acknowledged that he had a secret overseas bank account that contained around 600,000 euros ($770,000) for some 20 years.
Cahuzac, who was a “vocal crusader against the use of overseas tax havens” according to the BBC, resigned from the Socialist party government two weeks ago after allegations that surfaced in December gathered momentum.
However, it could still be a serious setback for Francois Hollande’s government and his war on tax evasion.
Hollande spent the first year of his presidency in a battle with rogue French citizens who want to pay less tax. The battle was mostly philosophical — for example, a flagship 75% top tax rate (delayed due to a legal decision) wasn’t supposed to raise much money.
Regardless, the country refused to back down in the battle with Gérard Depardieu, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault calling the actor “pathetic” and “shabby” for moving to a town in Belgium to escape new taxes (Depardieu responded by giving up his French passport and accepting Vladimir Putin’s offer of Russian citizenship).
Now the government minister formerly in charge of the battle against tax evasion has been revealed to have been stashing money secretly overseas. This doesn’t appear to be casual mistake either — Henry Samuel of the Telegraph points out that Cahuzac denied “ever” possessing a foreign bank account before parliament, and he described the allegations as “crazy” and “slanderous”.
That’s quite different from the story he’s telling now. French blog Mediapart had first reported on the allegations of a secret Swiss account (later moved to Singapore) in December. In a recording released by Mediapart, someone said to be Cahuzac says:
“What bothers me is that I’ve still got this account open at UBS. UBS is not necessarily the most hidden of banks.”
Cahuzac’s lawyer confirmed to Reuters that he was now under investigation, so the exact details of the account and any tax evasion should see the light of day.
Francois Hollande has promptly slammed Cahuzac for the admission. A public statement says that Cahuzac “has committed an unpardonable moral error. All elected officials must uphold two qualities: serving as an exemplar (“exemplarite”) and honesty”.
For Hollande, it’s another lost battle in his tax war, making his government look hypocritical at best, corrupt at worst.
The French President seems to be collecting these losses — just two months ago Le Monde called his tax policy a “disaster”.
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