The French billionaire art dealer Guy Wildenstein has been cleared of tax fraud after a second trial collapsed in Paris on Friday. He was accused of not declaring art worth hundreds of millions of euros to the taxman. French tax authorities claimed the family fortune remained obscured after the death of Guy’s father Daniel in 2001.
In January 2017, Wildenstein was acquitted after the first trial of the patriarch of this powerful art-dealing dynasty collapsed. The French prosecutors successfully appealed for a retrial.
In a statement the appeal court “finds that the crime of tax fraud is outside the statute of limitations… and confirms the judgement” of the first trial, the presiding judge stated in the courtroom in Paris during a five-minute judgement.
In this complex case, prosecutors had called for a four-year prison sentence and a fine of 250 million euros. The period involved tax declarations filed in 2002 and 2008. The trial began with one of the biggest inheritance disputes in history.
Wildenstein’s nephew Alec Junior and his ex-stepsister Liouba Stoupakova were also acquitted, as well as trust fund managers and lawyers who were on trial.
The French court was shown evidence of a “clear attempt by Wildenstein and his seven co-defendants to hide art treasures and properties worth hundreds of millions of euros from tax authorities”. It was shown that billions of dollars of art were held by a web of trusts and holding companies stretching from the Channel Island of Guernsey to the Bahamas.
The presiding judge however said, “lapses in the investigation and in French law made it impossible to return a guilty verdict, a decision that led to the appeal by prosecutors for a re-trial”.
The lawyers representing the family had always contested legal grounds for the prosecution, arguing that there was “no legal nor moral grounds to accuse Guy Wildenstein of anything.”
Wildenstein’s lawyer Herve Temime stated the verdict “the only decision possible” and sharply criticised French prosecutors.”
“It’s very easy to make up figures, to sully a name, a family, and explain in every way possible that there was massive tax evasion that must be judged. Except that it was false and a load of rubbish,” he told reporters.
Guy Wildenstein is the heir to an art dealering family going back three generations. They also breed thoroughbred racehorses.
The family was brought into further disrepute when brother Alec divorced the Swiss socialite Jocelyne Perisse, AKA the “Bride of Wildenstein” The estranged partners of Daniel and Alec disputed the inheritance, accusing Guy of “hiding much of his inherited fortune via a web of opaque trusts in tax havens.”
In the latest court ruling, the presiding judge said Guy Wildenstein could not be prosecuted over a 2002 tax declaration after his father’s death because too much time had elapsed under French law. The statute of limitations for prosecutions at the time was only three years.
The second tax declaration in 2008 was made after Alec’s death, the judge found there was no legal basis for prosecuting the Wildensteins.
France modified its laws on trust funds in 2011. They are known as the “Wildenstein law” this gives tax authorities greater power to pursue individuals who shift assets to offshore investment funds to avoid tax.
Now onto the Sacklers!
Up Date – French prosecutors stated on Tuesday that they would appeal the court ruling clearing Franco-American art dynasty heir Guy Wildenstein of massive tax fraud. Watch This Space!