BEIRUT: France urged Lebanon to sign a tax information exchange treaty to avoid placing the country in the noncooperative countries or “tax-havens states, a statement by the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Wednesday. Officials from the French Finance and Economy ministries told a delegation from ABL which visited France that it was in Lebanon’s interest to join the treaty.
But ABL President Joseph Torbey told the French officials that the caretaker Cabinet had sent the bill on the treaty to the Parliament for approval.
However, it is unlikely that this draft law will see the light in the near future due to the sharp political rift in the country and the paralysis of the Parliament.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has called for a parliamentary session on July 16-18, although indications show that most parliamentary blocs plan to boycott these meetings for various political reasons.
The United States and Europe are spearheading a campaign to persuade all countries to disclose all types of tax evasion, fearing that some wealthy citizens are depositing their money in foreign banks that have banking secrecy to evade taxes in their countries.
Lebanon is already cooperating with the United States to disclose the bank accounts of any American citizens residing in the country.
Torbey assured French officials that Lebanese banks were fully complying with all international measures, adding that the banking secrecy is not an obstacle to the exchange of information especially with the presence of the Special Investigation Commission.
Lebanon is still one the few countries in the world with banking secrecy but nevertheless the Central Bank and the Special Investigation Commission have strived to monitor closely any suspicious financial transactions or deposits.
The SIC receives and processes all inquiries and complaints from local and international sources and has lifted the banking secrecy regulations on individuals and groups who had suspicious accounts.
Torbey and the delegation accompanying him briefed the French officials about the role the banks play in shaping the Lebanese economy.
The French officials, according to the statement, have expressed keen interest in preserving stability in Lebanon and the protection of the Lebanese banking sector.
They also appreciated the professionalism of the Lebanese banks during the major international crisis and their efforts in abiding by the international standards and criteria.
The Lebanese banking delegation stressed that banks and financial authorities were insulated from the current political polarization and bickering.
They added that Lebanese banks continued to finance the state and the local economy.
French banks have stakes in several Lebanese banks such as SGBL.