(AFP) – Mired in a scandal over an ex-minister’s secret Swiss bank account, French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday vowed to “eradicate” tax havens, increase checks on officials’ finances and crack down on tax cheats.
Laying out a series of measures just over a week after his former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac was charged with tax fraud, Hollande promised “a relentless battle against the excesses of money, greed and secret finance.”
The new “moralisation” drive will include measures to limit the use of tax havens by forcing banks to expose their foreign activities, Hollande told a post-cabinet press conference.
“Tax havens must be eradicated in Europe and the world,” Hollande said.
“French banks will be required to every year make public the list of all their subsidiaries everywhere in the world, country by country,” and will be required to “declare the nature of their activities,” he said.
Hollande said he wanted the requirement extended to banks across the European Union and eventually to major corporations.
Hollande also announced initiatives to restore confidence in public officials and boost the fight against tax evasion, with a new law to be presented by April 24.
A new “completely independent” government authority will be created to monitor the assets and potential conflicts of interests of ministers, parliamentarians and other senior elected officials, he said.
The government has already ordered ministers to declare their assets publicly by Monday and other officials will face the same requirement once the law is adopted.
A special prosecutors’ office will also be created to lead the fight against corruption and tax evasion, and punishments for fiscal crimes will be increased, Hollande said.
His Socialist government is scrambling to contain the scandal surrounding Cahuzac, who last week was charged with tax fraud after admitting to having an undeclared foreign bank account containing some 600,000 euros ($770,000).
Critics have called for a cabinet reshuffle over the scandal and said Wednesday the new measures did not go far enough to restore confidence in the government.
“We’re still as much in the dark,” said the head of the main opposition right-wing UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope. “None of the measures proposed would have prevented the Cahuzac scandal.”
“The attempts at distraction continue. The president has still not taken the full measure of the scandal, of what’s happening with Cahuzac,” said Christian Jacob, the head of the UMP faction in the lower house National Assembly.
Hollande said he felt “wounded” and “bruised” by the scandal, insisting that Cahuzac’s behaviour “goes against all of my personal views”.
Cahuzac — who resigned on March 19 after prosecutors opened a probe into the account — had repeatedly denied its existence to the president, on the floor of parliament and in media interviews.
Critics have rounded on Hollande and his ministers, accusing them of either trying to cover up the scandal or of mismanagement for having believed Cahuzac’s denials.
Polls have shown widespread discontent with the handling of the crisis by the government and Hollande, who is languishing in the polls less than a year after defeating right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency.