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Private finances get new public scrutiny in France

PARIS — President Francois Hollande of France ordered members of his Cabinet to publicly disclose their finances within days and asked lawmakers to do the same, saying Wednesday the country needed to learn from its mistakes after the budget minister was revealed as a tax-dodger with secret offshore bank accounts.

In a country uncomfortable with flagrant wealth or open discussions about money, only the president has to publicly list his assets. The new rules require Cabinet members to disclose their assets and value.

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The rules will ultimately apply to all national lawmakers and Cabinet members, as well as former presidents who are automatically on France’s Constitutional Council, which rules on the constitutionality of laws. One former president on the council, Jacques Chirac, was convicted of corruption and Nicolas Sarkozy faces allegations he took envelopes stuffed with cash for campaign funding.

Hollande’s plan came after Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister, was forced to resign after an investigative journalism site uncovered evidence that he had secret accounts in Switzerland and Singapore. Some officials are releasing their financial details in response; others are unenthusiastic about an idea they say is being imposed without debate.

“I know how much the French want a change in this sad succession of affairs that sullies the image of the country and of our political life,” Hollande said.

France and Slovenia are the only European countries that do not make lawmakers’ financial disclosures public, Transparency International said.

American disclosure rules cover just about everyone in high office, including members of Congress and senior staff, candidates for federal office, and members of the Cabinet, and Supreme Court justices. Since 1978 they have been required to disclose personal finances annually. In addition, since last year they need to report stock trades, to avoid conflicts of interest. The information is readily available online, but disclosure forms require only ranges; the higher the amount, the broader the range.

SECRET BANK ACCOUNT SCANDAL

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In China, high-ranking officials are required to report assets in internal reports, but there is no public declaration system and corruption is rampant, a sore spot for a public cynical about the Communist Party’s political monopoly. The leadership installed in November has taken largely symbolic measures, including imposing limits on expensive dining at the public’s expense and an end to the official motorcades people find obnoxious.

In Britain, members of Parliament, including ministers, are required to publicly report their income from gifts and work outside Parliament but not the value of all their financial interests and assets. Ministers also must disclose any other involvements, including charities, which might conflict with their responsibilities.

Russian officials have three months to shed their overseas bank accounts or stocks under a new measure introduced by President Vladimir Putin, but some analysts have said that some Russian officials would still be able to keep money in accounts that are tied to offshore companies or under the names of proxies — a common practice in tax havens. Russia’s former Central Bank chief estimated that about $49 billion, which is equivalent to 2.5 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product, was wired to foreign accounts illegally last year.

And rulers across the oil-rich Gulf Arab states have no obligations to disclose personal wealth, including many assets abroad in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Some hints come from their travels — the UAE’s president, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, owns an estate in the Seychelles and the Saudi royalty has palaces in Morocco — but a full accounting is impossible.

The Forbes magazine list of billionaires released last month includes only a few from Gulf ruling families, including none from hyper-rich Qatar, where rulers never publicly disclose personal information such as wealth.

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