- On April 3, 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) shed light on the “Panama Papers” scandal, a vast system of tax evasion.
- These revelations had international repercussions, leading to numerous judicial inquiries and demonstrations.
- Five years later, although significant progress has been made in France and in Europe in the fight against tax evasion, political brakes remain, believes Quentin Parrinello, spokesperson for Oxfam France.
Five years have passed since the publication of the “Panama Papers”. Revealed in France
by the newspaper The world in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), this tax scandal has had multiple repercussions. Demonstrations, legislative reforms and judicial inquiries have multiplied since April 6, 2016.
In France, 26 cases targeting individuals or companies were opened by the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF). And, according to the evening daily, the tax administration was able to recover the equivalent of 372 million euros in taxes and penalties in three years. For the spokesperson for the NGO Oxfam France, Quentin Parrinello, if the “Panama Papers” served as a salutary “electroshock”, the lack of political will in the fight against tax evasion remains.
“Offshore Leaks”, “LuxLeaks”, “SwissLeaks”… The “Panama Papers” were not the first tax scandal revealed by the press. However, the impact of this investigation was very important. How do you explain it?
This case was one of the most important because it targeted very high level personalities, from political, economic or sports circles. The media impact caused by these revelations has led to a real awareness of our current international tax system, which facilitates tax evasion of the richest and large companies and which legally allows these richer ones not to pay their fair share of tax. ‘tax.
Five years after the publication of the “Panama Papers”, what has changed in France in the fight against tax evasion?
In France, there has been a major change which has focused on the fight against tax fraud with the relaxation of what is called “the Bercy lock”. Before, the tax administration alone decided whether or not to prosecute a person for tax evasion. This device was made infamous during the Cahuzac affair since the person who had to decide whether or not to prosecute Jérôme Cahuzac… was Jérôme Cahuzac. This posed a big problem in terms of conflict of interest.
From now on, cases of tax fraud are automatically transmitted to justice beyond a certain threshold. But this only concerns tax evasion, and not tax evasion, which is the biggest problem.
At the same time, the government passed a law allowing companies to benefit from transactional justice, that is to say to negotiate their sentence with the justice system. The company no longer negotiates with Bercy but with the judicial authorities to pay a fine without being found guilty. It’s called the “public interest judicial convention”. Many NGOs, including Oxfam, were against this reform because it introduces a “double standard” compared to any other litigant.
Has political discourse changed on this subject?
The “Panama Papers” acted as an electric shock. As we can see in the political discourse, tax evasion is no longer acceptable. There have been many declarations of intent to “end tax havens” and evasion. But we are still faced with an economic system that facilitates fraud and the escape of large multinationals and the richest people.
We must not forget that these are less revenues to finance education or health. And, at a time as crucial as the one we are living now, that is less money to fight the pandemic. As a reminder, in France, tax evasion is between 80 and 100 billion euros per year that does not fit into the state coffers. It is more than the national education budget, which is one of the most important expenditure items in our country.
What were the consequences of this affair at European level?
Two interesting political processes were relaunched after the publication of this survey. The first concerns tax transparency, which involves asking large companies to disclose the countries in which they make profits and where they pay taxes. This would make it possible to verify whether the amounts paid correspond to their real economic activity. This question was relaunched by the European Commission which proposed a directive, supported by the European Parliament in 2017. But it was blocked by several European tax havens.
Chance of the calendar, negotiations have just been relaunched less than a month ago on this subject, and this is very good news. The bad news is that, to relaunch negotiations, the European Council has finally lowered the ambition of this text, and partial transparency is being considered. Tax havens have torpedoed the content of this measure and the countries which are supposed to support it, in particular France, have done so with lip service, without really getting involved politically.
Who from the second process?
The other direct consequence of these revelations is the establishment of a European blacklist of tax havens. This is a good thing, because tax havens are the first link in the chain of tax evasion. But there are several problems. This list does not count the performance of European tax havens and the criteria used to include a particular country in this blacklist are extremely restrictive, which means that most of the large tax havens are not on this list. In our opinion, five European countries should integrate it and still are not. These are Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus.
What obstacles remain, in your opinion?
The challenge is to move from speech to action. A reform, piloted by the OECD, launched at the end of 2017, is still being negotiated between 137 countries. When it was announced, it was very ambitious and proposed to put in place a global effective minimum tax rate. Current international rules promote unfair tax competition. A tax haven will say: “I do not tax companies”, and countries like France, which are not tax havens, say to themselves: “We have to remain competitive, so we will lower our taxes to businesses “.
As long as we don’t tackle this logic, as long as we let multinationals choose the country where they want to record their profits and therefore favor tax havens, we can do as many blacklists as we want. will not be enough.
So are there any positive signals?
Joe Biden made an important announcement last Wednesday proposing a new minimum tax rate in the United States of 21%, which is well above what is currently practiced. In addition, he wants to increase the corporate tax from 21 to 28% while France, she chooses to lower it. It is a signal sent to the international community: when there is political will, changes are possible. If we change these international rules, tax havens will no longer have a reason to exist.