- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PARIS (AP) - The French Justice Ministry will open a judicial inquiry into three companies accused of money laundering via Liechtenstein, one of Europe’s well-known tax havens, the budget minister said Tuesday.

The three companies were part of a group of 64 French ones that had attracted attention for possible fraud involving bank accounts in Liechtenstein, Eric Woerth told LCI television.

Most of the group of 64 are privately-owned family companies with a long history of banking in Liechtenstein and have now paid taxes due to French authorities.

However, French tax authorities were unable to get to the bottom of the activities of the other three, Woerth said. Therefore, he said he decided to turn those cases over to the Justice Ministry for further inquiry.

The French cases came to light in February 2008 as a result of an inquiry by German authorities.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said France would crack down on money laundering in European tax havens, including Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Andorra. Sarkozy and other leaders are expected to put pressure on tax havens at the G-20 summit in London on Thursday.

With governments around the world straining to pay for bailouts and fiscal stimulus, about 35 offshore tax havens _ from Britain’s Channel Islands Jersey and Guernsey to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean _ are facing increasing pressure to be more open.

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