"Over 100 Belgian companies linked to tax havens"

Flanders' financial daily De Tijd reports that some 110 Belgian businesses have been linked to companies based in tax havens including the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The businesses include banker KBC, chemicals giant Solvay and the French energy conglomerate GDF Suez.

The Belgian Secretary of State charged with special responsibility for combatting fraud, John Crombez (Flemish socialist), has ordered an investigation into the role played by Belgian banks in these offshore constructions.

The Graydon databank compiled two lists at the request of the daily De Tijd. The lists detail all the Belgian companies that have strong links to companies in the two tax havens. In some instances the Belgians hold a stake in the company. More frequently one of the Belgian companies' shareholders has an interest.

The list includes the banks KBC and BNP Paribas Fortis, chemicals giant Solvay and the French energy group GDF Suez via the Belgian British venture International Power. The Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries that is also largely owned by the Belgian state is listed too. Many small businesses occur as well.

Belgium's Special Tax Service says it is unable to identify who are behind all these companies in tax havens. An official told De Tijd: "Even if police detectives head there, we won't be able to get the information. It's an ideal place to make anonymous investments in Belgium, e.g. in real estate."

Tax lawyer Thierry Afschrift warns against drawing conclusions prematurely: "Belgians being there isn't suspicious from the word go. There are also legal reasons why you might want to keep your business anonymous. The important thing is that you pay your taxes. These islands are also often interesting stepping stones for investments in Asia."

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