AMSTERDAM Jan 23 Big French companies, including part state-owned EDF, GDF Suez and Thales, are increasingly using holdings in the Netherlands to reduce taxation, Dutch paper Het Financieele Dagblad reported on Wednesday, citing its own research.
Energy companies EDF and GDF Suez, defence company Thales and water company Veolia have all recently established financial holdings in the Netherlands, the paper said.
The Netherlands is known for having tax agreements with many other countries, which allow companies to cut their tax bill by avoiding double taxation payments.
The newspaper said a total of 20 French companies, with sales of more than 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion), have set up financial holdings in the Netherlands to benefit from the country's large number of bilateral tax agreements.
EDF declined to comment. A Thales spokesman said the company had had a presence in the Netherlands dating back to 1922 and that there had not been any change in the unit's purpose since then. GDF and Veolia were not immediately available for comment.
The French state has stakes in all four companies, including 84 percent of EDF.
Tax avoidance has become a widely debated topic in France since French actor Gerard Depardieu last month complained about tax hikes for the rich, and France's richest man Bernard Arnault's attempt to obtain a Belgian passport.
A Thales spokesman told Reuters: "Thales' presence in the Netherlands is not motivated by tax reasons."
He said Thales was the largest Dutch defence contractor and noted that the company had acquired Philips' defence operations in 1989. The spokesman also said Thales in the Netherlands was a global centre for radar and combat management systems, which produced 500 million euros in revenue and had some 2,000 employees. ($1 = 0.7526 euro) (Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger, Christian Plumb and Geert De Clercq. Editing by Jane Merriman)