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France fighting against tax evasion

France hails success in rooting out tax cheats

PARIS, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Most of the 3,000 French taxpayers whose names appeared on data stolen from a Swiss branch of bank HSBC have contacted authorities to legalise their financial holdings, French Budget Minister Eric Woerth said on Sunday.

Switzerland protested strongly about the use of the information and France has promised to return the data, but Woerth said the majority of those on the lists had already contacted tax officials to resolve any fiscal problems.

“Closer to 3,000 (people have stepped forward) rather than 1,500,” Woerth told Europe 1 radio.

“This is a great success,” he said, adding France would prolong its drive to persuade taxpayers to step forward voluntarily and declare hidden, offshore accounts.

At the start of December, officials said some 1,400 taxpayers with accounts stashed away in neighbouring Switzerland had settled their affairs with French authorities, raising 500 million euros ($717 million) in tax arrears.

However, news that France had obtained complete data from HSBC’s offshore banking headquarters in Geneva only emerged early last month and officials had indicated there was a subsequent upsurge in contacts with the tax authorities.

HSBC has confirmed that an ex-employee, Herve Falciani, stole client data in 2006 and 2007 and have launched legal proceedings against him.

Falciani fled to France and the data fell into the hands of local officials last year after French police raided the man’s house at the request of Swiss magistrates and confiscated his digital files.

Switzerland was furious over France’s decision to use the stolen information to track down fraudsters and has threatened to suspend ratification of a treaty aimed at helping France catch tax cheats unless the data was returned.

France says it will hand back the files, but will nonetheless continue to use the lists.

Woerth said on Sunday that a special unit set up last April to deal with tax cheats had closed down, as expected, on Dec. 31. But he added the campaign against fiscal fraud would carry on unabated in 2010. ($1=.6973 Euro) (Reporting by Crispian Balmer)

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