ICIJ’s series of investigative stories on offshore secrecy were in the news again last week as French President François Hollande went on national television to declare that “tax havens must be eradicated in Europe and worldwide.” The New York Times suggested Hollande’s bold move was motivated by a domestic political scandal, an ailing economy and “angry public reaction” to ICIJ’s tax haven reports, which are based on a cache of 2.5 million secret offshore records.
The Times said the reports by ICIJ and its media partners around the world have “set off something of a scramble to calm public anger over widespread tax dodging by the rich at a time when governments are cutting their budgets and calling on citizens to pay higher taxes.” Media in Europe and elsewhere have given front-page play to stories about ICIJ’s reports, which have become known in shorthand on Twitter and in many news outlets simply as “Offshore Leaks.”
Hollande told French banks they must declare all of their offshore subsidiaries and said he would push other nations to share information about French citizens’ holdings within their borders. “I will not hesitate to consider any country that refuses to fully cooperate with France as a tax haven,” he said.
In another announcement last week, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said his country plans to lift bank secrecy rules for European Union citizens who have money stashed in the country, ending decades of bank secrecy in Luxembourg. “We are following a global movement,” Juncker told parliament in a state-of-the-nation address. The new transparency regime would begin in January 2015.
Last Tuesday, Europe’s five biggest economic powers — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — announced they would begin regularly exchanging banking and tax information as a well of identifying tax dodgers and other financial wrongdoers. “Recent developments, fuelled by the outcome of the Offshore Leaks, confirms the urgency for more and better action against tax evasion,” European Commissioner for Taxation Algirdas Šemeta said in making the case for greater exchange of financial data among nations. “ … Now it is time to put words into action.”