Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard opened an offshore account in a tax haven on the island of Jersey while he worked as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, a Radio-Canada report says.
While Mr. Couillard did nothing illegal, the news report raises questions about his credibility to demand more transparency from other political leaders in the election campaign. In the news report, Mr. Couillard said he was a non-resident when he worked in Saudi Arabia between 1992 and 1996. During that period, he deposited $600,000 in his offshore account, which he kept open until 2000.
The banks in the British channel island have been considered among the richest tax havens in the world, where the wealthy stash away fortunes protected by a thick cloud of secrecy.
Mr. Couillard told Radio-Canada that when he returned home in 1996, he filed a tax report disclosing the money in the offshore tax shelter. He said he paid taxes on the interest as required by law.
The report quotes a Quebec tax expert who says people usually deposit money in Jersey because the banks guarantee complete secrecy regarding accounts.
Mr. Couillard has said he and his wife no longer have an offshore account and have always fully disclosed their assets.
A spokesman for the Liberal Leader said on Wednesday evening that Mr. Couillard acted within the law and did nothing wrong while he was in Saudi Arabia, and that he, like other Canadians, opened an account with the Royal Bank of Canada's international branch on Jersey, where his paycheques were deposited.
"There is no story here," Harold Fortin said. "At no point did he want to hide anything. Tax havens are used to hide money. Mr. Couillard never hid any money from the Canadian and Quebec governments."
On Tuesday, the day Radio-Canada approached Mr. Couillard about his former offshore account, the Liberal leader promised to reveal his 2012 tax return and the assets he and his wife own. He then demanded that all other political leaders in Quebec do the same.
Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault agreed on Wednesday to reveal his family revenues and assets, but Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois refused. She explained that to disclose the assets of her husband, multimillionaire financier Claude Blanchet, amounted to voyeurism. She said all of the information was handed over to the Ethics Commissioner.