Special Report: In France, A Tax-free Property Empire

France targets World Cup playoff spot

With two matches left, France trails world champion Spain by three points but is five points ahead of Finland. Belarus is last and can no longer qualify. “We’re targeting a second-place finish to reach the playoffs,” France midfielder Mathieu Valbuena said. “We were not the favorites in this group but at one stage we dreamt of the top spot. Now we must get back to reality, which is the playoffs in November. We must think positive and find the net again.” The top teams automatically qualify for the World Cup while eight of the nine second-place teams go into the playoffs. France winger Franck Ribery is doubtful for the match because of injury and his absence would be a blow to France. The pacy winger was recently named best player in Europe after leading Bayern Munich to success in the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the German Cup last season. “I can’t say that I’m 100 percent fit but I hope to play,” Ribery told French daily L’Equipe. Also, Karim Benzema’s starting spot is under threat. The Real Madrid striker has not scored in his last 15 games for France. Benzema is the most prolific player in the current France squad with 15 goals from 60 matches.

But real-estate agents say they are not as active as the Qataris, and regulatory filings yield little information on private investments. These include a luxury home opposite the Eiffel Tower owned by the late Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saudi and a Kuwaiti family’s flats near the Avenue Montaigne. The French finance ministry said it can’t count Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s tax-free purchases because, like Qatar’s, they are not declared. Government officials from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait declined to comment. Some French lawmakers suggest the Gulf Arab nations are even competing for French tax concessions: Qatar used the Kuwaiti precedent to renegotiate its treaty in 2008 and today the United Arab Emirates is using Qatar’s to pressure the French for the same sort of gains. “The United Arab Emirates are not at all happy because Qataris have a better tax treatment,” said Nathalie Goulet, a centrist senator from Lower Normandy, who spoke to UAE officials during a fact-finding mission to the Arab Gulf earlier this year. She finds the French concessions “extravagant” and says the fact that Qatar’s neighbors are complaining is a sign the treaty is wrong. “Our deficit has destroyed our freedom,” she said. “The Qataris are here to buy, whilst we are selling our family jewels.” UAE Finance Ministry Under-Secretary Younis Haji al Khoury said Qatar’s tax treatment in France was a matter for those two countries. Asked whether the UAE was seeking renegotiation, he said: “We have not yet negotiated these terms. This is an internal matter and we’ll do it in due time if we need to.” The French ministry said its priority would be to improve exchange of information. TRADING PLACES Taxes matter a lot in France: The country’s total tax take was 43 percent of GDP in 2010, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), far bigger than the United States’ 25 percent or the United Kingdom’s 35 percent. A generous healthcare system and faith in the state have helped governments sell tax rises to the public, which are needed to trim a 90-billion euro budget deficit. It isn’t possible to see what Qatari investors have done with their French investments. Many owners use interlocking holding companies which make it hard to verify transactions, and if one company buys another, it often leaves no trace.

France, Spain get wins at Euros

The top three teams from each group advance. Finland trailed in regulation and the first overtime before pulling out the win. The Russians were without Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko and several other stars. Italy stayed perfect after four games with an 81-72 victory over previously unbeaten Greece, with Chicago Bulls guard Marco Belinelli scoring 23 points. Both teams joined Finland in advancing from that group. In Jesenice, Serbia beat Latvia 80-71 behind 25 points from center Nenad Krstic to advance. Ukraine stayed with France until Parker took over in the fourth quarter. The Spurs guard connected on two jumpers and then sank a 3-pointer to help the French pull away. Parker scored 13 of his team’s last 17 points. France was runner-up two years ago. “We kept fighting and in the fourth quarter we found the solutions,” Parker said after playing his 50th game in a European championship.