France plans to add the Virgin Islands to a blacklist along with the Seychelles, Anguilla and the Bahamas because they are “not cooperative enough in terms of financial transparency,” French Public Accounts Minister Gerald Darmanin reportedly told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.
France has been investigating 500 offshore companies owned by French residents since information about them was revealed in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, according to news reports.
The move, however, comes as the VI has been passing legislation over the past year to comply with economic substance requirements from the European Union to avoid being placed on an EU blacklist.
Premier Andrew Fahie did not respond to requests for comment, but BVI Finance CEO Elise Donovan said the relevant government agencies were working with French authorities to get more information. She declined to comment further until more is known.
However, during a Dec. 5 Senate sitting Bahamas Attorney General Carl Bethel called the blacklisting a “surprise attack by the French” and said, “We will find out what the cause of the problem is and we will fix it,” according to the Nassau Guardian.
The previous day in the country’s House of Assembly, Bahamas Finance Minister Peter Turnquest also pledged to remedy the situation.
“I expressed regret that the French government deemed this step necessary,” he said. “I think that we have to accept that they too are under pressure from their parliamentarians and sometimes countries that have these issues have to find someone to strike out at.”
Seychelles Finance Minister Maurice Loustau-Lalanne called the decision “hostile, regrettable and disappointing,” and added that it would negatively impact the Seychelles’ economy, according to the Seychelles News Agency.
French Ambassador to the Seychelles Dominique Mas suggested in an interview with SNA that the move was due to financial information requested by the French government that was delayed and deemed insufficient.
“Seychelles, like the other countries which have also been blacklisted, were slow in providing the information requested by the French authority and the information provided was deemed not adequate,” Mr. Mas said.
Mr. Loustau-Lalanne added that the Seychelles government would look at amending laws to better comply with international norms, and would write a letter to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
“We will protest, because I feel this is a hostile action,” he told SNA. “We need to get out of this situation, and we need to work with the French authorities to remedy this situation as quickly as possible.”