Michelin, Total, Adidas targeted in fraud probe

31st March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The three firms are facing investigation in France for evading taxes via accounts in Liechtenstein, confirms prosecutors.

PARIS – Tyre maker Michelin, oil firm Total and sports firm Adidas are facing investigation in France for evading taxes via accounts in the Alpine principality of Liechtenstein, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The Paris prosecutor's office confirmed reports that the French finance ministry had provided it in late 2008 with case files concerning foundations linked to the three firms, as well as some 30 French individuals.

It said it will open a preliminary investigation into the firms, the first step towards a possible indictment on charges of dodging taxes and concealing the profits behind Liechtenstein's banking secrecy laws.

Le Parisien daily reported that the probe targets the Copa foundation, thought to be linked to the Michelin group, the Elf Trading foundation, which depends on TotalFinaElf, and six foundations linked to Adidas.

All three firms denied being the target of a money-laundering probe.

"The Michelin group does not own a Copa foundation, nor does it hold any accounts at the LGT bank in Liechtenstein," a spokesman for the firm told AFP.

Energy giant TotalFinaElf told AFP it "formally denies" owning a foundation called "Elf Trading" aimed at "laundering funds" in Liechtenstein.

"We have no activities in Liechtenstein, with the exception of two service stations," a Total spokeswoman said.

Adidas also told Le Parisien it had no knowledge of any such investigation.

Budget Minister Eric Woerth confirmed on LCI television that his ministry had transferred three files to prosecutors, but would neither confirm nor deny the names of the groups involved.

French authorities launched an investigation after a major German tax evasion scandal uncovered allegedly undeclared accounts held by foreign nationals within Liechtenstein's secretive banking sector.

Lichtenstein bank LGT said tax inspectors were working from a list with the names of 1,400 of its clients that was stolen in 2002.

France's finance ministry has been investigating 64 family-owned firms in connection with the scandal, of which 16 have since come clean and paid their overdue taxes and penalties, Woerth said.

Authorities estimated last year that French firms evaded up to EUR 1 billion in taxes via Liechtenstein, of which Le Parisien said Elf, Michelin and Adidas accounted for "a large part".

Transparency International France estimates that corporate tax evasion via tax havens costs the French state some EUR 10 billion per year.

Leaders of the Group of 20 meeting in London this week are set to draw up an international blacklist of tax havens, as worldwide pressure grows to clamp down on uncooperative nations and territories.

Bowing to international pressure, Liechtenstein agreed earlier in March to ease its strict banking secrecy rules and cooperate with foreign governments to combat tax fraud.

AFP / Expatica

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