April 12, 2016 / 11:32 AM / 3 years ago

French bank chief Oudea to meet senators over Panama Papers

PARIS (Reuters) - Societe Generale’s (SOGN.PA) boss is due to meet French senators on Tuesday to discuss the Panama Papers revelations on offshore banking and accusations he misled France’s upper house of parliament over the bank’s tax haven activity in 2012.

French bank Societe Generale Chief Executive Officer Frederic Oudea attends a news conference to present the company's 2015 annual results La Defense near Paris, France, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Chief Executive Frederic Oudea and his bank have been thrust to the fore of a controversy over usage of secretive tax havens since an investigative news syndicate this month exposed leaked documents on the activities of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The reports, based on 11.5 million leaked documents, put SocGen near the top of a global list of banks creating shell companies in Panama since the late 1970s, with a total of 979 created by the French bank.

Oudea will meet Senate Finance Committee chief Michele Andre as a prelude to broader Senate hearings of leading bankers and the supervisory authorities on activities in tax havens, according to a Senate statement.

Oudea was summoned to meet Finance Minister Michel Sapin last week and tax police raided SocGen offices. Oudea and Didier Valet, head of corporate and investment banking, private banking and asset management, also met French unions on Monday to answer questions about the Panama Papers.

“The information revealed by the Panama Papers showed that several financial institutions made use of offshore companies, for their own account or for clients, that may have been used to hide certain assets or operations in so-called non-cooperative territories, possible for tax reasons,” the Senate statement said.

Asked by Reuters to comment on Tuesday, SocGen referred to a statement it issued on April 4 saying it had closed its establishments in Panama and other havens, and an interview in Le Figaro newspaper in which the bank and Oudea said SocGen abided by all the rules of the countries in which it operated.

The Senate has slated a meeting of its cross-party steering committee for April 28 to examine the matter after accusations by politicians that Oudea misled senators when giving testimony in April 2012.

At issue is a declaration during a Senate hearing on April 17, 2012 in which, according to an official transcript, Oudea said his bank had closed operations in locations named in an OECD “gray list” of bank centers deemed as lacking transparency.

Oudea said in the Le Figaro interview that one should not confuse a structure owned and operated by the bank with companies owned by its clients.

The news syndicate behind the Panama Papers revelations says it will release more information in May but has so far not given detail of the precise years in which SocGen created or closed shell companies. Data released refer globally to the period 1977 to 2015 for a whole range of banks. panamapapers.icij.org/graphs/

Reporting by Brian Love; Additional reporting by Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Mark Potter

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