Bloomberg News

PARIS — Axa SA chairman Claude Bebear indicated he has nothing to fear from a probe into allegations of tax evasion at a former unit of the insurance company.

Mr. Bebear and Axa chief executive Henri de Castries were questioned last week by French prosecutors seeking to establish whether PanEuroLife, a Luxembourg insurer that Axa sold in 1998, was involved in money laundering and tax evasion.

“If I weren’t absolutely certain of my lack of responsibility in the allegations which have been made against me, I would never have accepted to continue my mission,” Mr. Bebear said during a speech at a reception to promote Paris’ bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Axa’s supervisory board said in a press statement issued Friday that it has “total confidence” that Mr. Bebear and Mr. Castries are innocent.

Regulators around Europe are taking a harder line on money laundering and pushing for companies, even those in tax havens such as Luxembourg, to disclose more about their businesses. The allegations against PanEuroLife hinge on whether it laundered tens of millions of U.S. dollars on behalf of small and midsize French companies since 1992, the Journal du Dimanche reported.

PanEuroLife was established in 1990 by a group of European insurers, including UAP SA. The company says the allegations against it emerged after 1996, when France introduced laws to prevent money laundering. Jean-Michel Turin, a PanEuroLife spokesman, said the accounts in question involved Banque Worms of Paris.

Axa acquired Banque Worms when it bought UAP in 1996. PanEuroLife is now owned by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

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