25th Oct 2016

Cyprus to give EU journalists free bank accounts

The incoming Cypriot EU presidency is to give Brussels-based journalists free offshore bank accounts to defend the island's reputation as a tax haven.

Back before the financial crisis, presidencies used to give the Brussels press corps little souvenirs of their time at the EU helm, such as a USB stick or a tie in the colours of the national flag.

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Then it all stopped - Denmark even served tap water at media events to mark the age of austerity.

Now, with the financial crisis over, Cyprus, which begins its EU presidency in July, is to revive the custom with a goodie bag containing something useful - documents that give each reporter access to his or her own offshore account in Ruskicomercbanka, a firm domiciled in Koufalitsa Street, Nicosia.

"We chose a Russian-owned bank to celebrate our history of co-operation with Russian oligarchs. We also wanted to thank Moscow for that no-strings-attached bail-out," Cypriot spokesman Stavros Aprilfoolodopoulos told EUobserver, referring to Russia's offer last year of a €2.5 billion loan.

He noted that many reporters make a bit on the side by freelancing, but Belgian income tax is quite high.

He added that it normally takes a few hundred euros and a bit of annoying paperwork to set up an account in Cyprus.

Meanwhile, with Nicosia recently agreeing to anti-tax-avoidance rules in the Paris-based economic club, the OECD, and pledging allegiance to the European Commission's new-and-improved savings tax directive, its EU presidency gift also has another side.

"People are starting to say: 'Hold on. Maybe they are serious about stopping tax cheats? Maybe we should go to Panama or somewhere instead?'," the Cypriot spokesman explained.

"With this small gesture, we want EU press to tell the world: 'Relax. Cyprus might sign this or that bit of paper. But in reality, it's business as usual'."

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