Sarkozy woos City bankers with promise of Paris tax break

Alistair Dawber
Monday 23 August 2010 00:00 BST

After spending most of the past two years blaming, "freewheeling Anglo-Saxon financiers" for the financial crisis and subsequent recession, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy has begun a charm offensive with the City of London, aimed at attracting the cream of the Square Mile's bankers to Paris.

Facing less than upbeat poll ratings at home, Mr Sarkozy has reportedly met several European heads of investment banks based in the Square Mile or Docklands, offering long-term tax breaks to make the switch. He is understood to have offered leading bankers incentives lasting as long as 20 years, the details of which have already been passed to senior bank officials.

As levies on London-based banks kick in, and as the higher, 50 per cent income tax rate begins to eat into pay cheques, Mr Sarkozy is hoping Paris can usurp London as the financial capital of Europe.

He is also understood to have raised George Osborne's threat of unilateral UK taxes on the banks if international charges cannot be agreed. Specific British levies were also favoured by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, when he was the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman in opposition.

Several banks are privately furious at Westminster's portrayal of the City as the villain of the recession, especially after the last Labour government encouraged the financial sector almost unchecked and enjoyed the huge tax returns that followed.

Some banks have reined in investment in the City as a result. JP Morgan has still not committed to a new headquarters in Docklands. The US bank agreed a deal in late 2008 for the development of a twin- tower building at Canary Wharf, which is already home to Barclays, HSBC and Credit Suisse.

It is understood that JP Morgan is irritated that criticism of the banking system has not abated since the Coalition came into office. Last year, it warned it was considering scrapping the project over tax increases and an orchestrated campaign of "banker-bashing" before the general election.

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