Five French banks raided in alleged tax fraud investigation

Authorities raided the Paris offices of five banks Tuesday on suspicion of tax fraud, French prosecutors said.

The raids come as part of five preliminary investigations opened in December 2021 on allegations of money laundering and tax fraud linked to dividend payments, the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.

Prosecutors didn't specify which banks were raided. French media said the banks searched included HSBC, BNP Paribas, Exane -- a subsidiary of BNP -- Societe Generale, and Natixis.

Societe Generale confirmed the investigation at its office but declined to comment further. Messages seeking comment from the other banks were not immediately returned.

The raid comes amid global financial turmoil unleashed this month by the collapse of two US banks and the government-orchestrated takeover of troubled Swiss lender Credit Suisse by its rival UBS.

The French investigation involved “cum cum” deals in which a foreign shareholder of a company listed in France transfers its shares to a French bank around the time that dividends are paid out to avoid paying capital gains tax.

The French prosecutors' statement says the search involved six German prosecutors from Cologne, in the framework of European judicial cooperation. It suggests that foreign shareholders in question included Germans or German entities.

The Cologne prosecutor’s office said it cannot comment on the investigation because “press sovereignty in this case lies with the French investigative authorities.”

A similar wide-ranging tax evasion investigation in neighboring Germany in recent years led to searches of banks, other companies and the homes of businesspeople, leading to convictions against some bankers.

Hundreds of bankers allegedly were involved in that fraud — involving “cum-ex” transactions in which participants swap shares to collect reimbursement for taxes they had not paid. The scam reportedly defrauded taxpayers of billions of euros.