April 4, 2016 / 4:18 PM / 3 years ago

France opens probe after Panama leaks

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government on Monday launched a preliminary investigation into tax fraud after a huge leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialized in setting up offshore companies.

Financial prosecutors said they were opening the probe to see if the leak linked any French taxpayers to aggravated tax fraud.

President Francois Hollande said tax evaders would be punished and pledged investigations into any leads turned up by the “Panama Papers”.

The leak from law firm Mossack Fonseca could be a boon for France’s Socialist government, which netted more than 12 billion euros ($13.67 billion) last year from a crackdown on tax dodging.

“I can assure you that as information emerges, investigations will be carried out, cases will be opened and trials will be held,” Hollande said during a visit to a company in the suburbs of Paris.

“These revelations are good news because they will increase tax revenues from those who commit fraud.”

The Finance Ministry said it would seek to gain access to the leaked files. Of 7,800 tax regularization cases French authorities dealt with last year, 515 involved a shell company registered in Panama, the ministry said.

French bank Societe Generale issued a statement after journalists handling the leaked files said the bank was among the biggest users of the law firm’s services.

SocGen said it abided by all the rules of the countries in which it operates and was proactive in fighting tax fraud.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Leigh Thomas; editing by Andrew Roche

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