Private finances get new public scrutiny in France

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Associated Press

Posted on April 10, 2013 at 3:33 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 10 at 8:06 AM

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande ordered members of his Cabinet to publicly disclose their finances within days and asked lawmakers to do the same, saying Wednesday the country needed to learn from its mistakes after the budget minister was revealed as a tax-dodger with secret offshore bank accounts.

Some requirements around the world — and how they're met:

FRANCE

In a country uncomfortable with flagrant wealth or open discussions about money, only the president currently has to publicly list his assets. The new rules require Cabinet members to disclose their assets and their value.

The rules will ultimately apply to all national lawmakers and Cabinet members, as well as former presidents who are automatically on France's Constitutional Council, which rules on the constitutionality of laws. One ex-president on the council, Jacques Chirac, was convicted of corruption. Another, Nicolas Sarkozy, faces allegations that he took envelopes stuffed with cash for campaign funding.

Hollande's plan came after Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister, was forced to resign after an investigative journalism site uncovered evidence that he had secret accounts in Switzerland and Singapore. Some officials are releasing their financial details already in response; others are unenthusiastic about an idea they say is being imposed without debate.

"I know how much the French want a change in this sad succession of affairs that sullies the image of the country and of our political life," Hollande said.

France and Slovenia are the only two European countries that do not make lawmakers' financial disclosures public, according to Transparency International.

UNITED STATES

American disclosure rules cover just about everyone in high office, including members of Congress and senior staff, candidates for federal office and members of the Cabinet, and Supreme Court justices. Since 1978 they have been required to disclose their personal finances annually. In addition, since last year they are required to report any stock trades, to avoid conflicts of interest. The information is readily available online, but the disclosure forms require only ranges; the higher the amount, the broader the range.

Republican Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest candidates ever to seek the presidency, was accused of manipulating his tax deductions to keep his overall 2011 rate artificially high. Overall, the Romneys' tax return and other forms for blind trusts totaled more than 800 pages. He made $13.6 million in 2011.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama reported almost $790,000 in adjusted gross income in 2011.

CHINA

High-ranking officials are required to report assets in internal reports, but there's no public declaration system and corruption is rampant, a sore spot for a public that has become cynical about the Communist Party's political monopoly. The leadership installed last November has taken largely symbolic measures, including imposing limits on expensive dining at the public's expense and an end to the official motorcades people find obnoxious. The wealthy province of Guangdong will test an asset disclosure program in one county and an urban district this year but the disclosures are not expected to be public. Much corruption has been committed by family members of officials, and it isn't clear that asset disclosure requirements being discussed will touch them.

The most spectacular purge in recent years has been that of Bo Xilai, the telegenic son of a veteran of the revolution who ran the city of Chongqing. Bo has yet to be put on trial but was expelled from the Communist Party in September and accused of taking massive bribes. With no independent investigation, Chinese believe he was ousted more for his ambition than for corruption.

BRITAIN

Members of Parliament, including ministers, are required to publicly report their income from gifts and work outside Parliament but not the value of all their financial interests and assets. Ministers also must disclose any other involvements, including charities, which might conflict with their responsibilities.

RUSSIA

Russian officials have three months to shed their overseas bank accounts or stocks under a new measure introduced by President Vladimir Putin, but some analysts have said some Russian officials would still be able to keep money in accounts that are tied to offshore companies or under the names of proxies — a common practice in tax havens. Russia's former Central Bank chief estimated that about $49 billion, which is equivalent to 2.5 percent of Russia's gross domestic product, was wired to foreign accounts illegally last year.

PERSIAN GULF

Rulers across the oil-rich Gulf Arab states have no obligations to publicly disclose personal wealth or other holdings such as businesses or investments, including many assets abroad in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere. Some hints of their vast assets come from their travels — the UAE's president, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, owns an estate in the Seychelles and the Saudi royalty has palaces in Morocco — but a full accounting is impossible.

The Forbes magazine list of billionaires released last month includes only a few from Gulf ruling families, including none from hyper-rich Qatar, where rulers never publicly disclose personal information such as wealth.

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Follow Lori Hinnant at: https://twitter.com/lhinnant

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