January 23, 2013 / 2:31 PM / in 5 years

UPDATE 2-French firms use Dutch holdings to cut tax bill-paper

(Adds comment from GDF Suez, Veolia)

AMSTERDAM, Jan 23 (Reuters) - French companies, including part state-owned EDF, GDF Suez and Thales , are increasingly using Dutch holdings to cut their tax bills, Dutch paper Het Financieele Dagblad reported, 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 on Wednesday.

Three of the companies - EDF, GDF and Thales - said they did not have businesses in the Netherlands for tax purposes. Veolia said it had no financial holding in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has 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, each with sales of more than 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion), had set up Dutch financial holdings to benefit from the country’s bilateral tax agreements.

A spokeswoman for EDF said its financial holdings in the Netherlands were not set up by the company but were acquired when it bought German utility EnBW’s Polish power stations in 2011.

GDF Suez told Reuters that its use of holding companies in the Netherlands was not for fiscal reasons but linked to its extensive operational activities there.

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.

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.

The 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 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 and Mark Potter

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