• gerard van weyenbergh

Wildenstein in trouble:again!

In January 2017, the three heirs and their advisers had benefited from a spectacular general acquittal for a tax evasion depicted by the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) at the hearing as "the longest and most sophisticated" in history recent in France.

The court of appeal confirmed this decision on June 29, 2018, relaxing the patriarch Guy Wildenstein, his nephew Alec Junior and his ex-sister-in-law Liouba Stoupakova, and two lawyers, a notary, and two fund managers.

This decision sounded like a new setback for the public prosecutor: the general prosecutor's office, which had taken heavy requisitions - four years in prison, two of which were suspended and 250 million euros against Guy Wildenstein in particular - had then lodged an appeal in cassation.

On Wednesday, the judiciary's highest court ruled in its direction by quashing the discharge judgment and sending the case back to the Paris Court of Appeal, otherwise composed, for a third trial.

A decision of which Guy Wildenstein's lawyer, Me Hervé Témime, told AFP "to take note," assuring that it would make it possible to obtain a new acquittal, which will plead "with the greatest firmness."

Canvas, horses, a ranch in Kenya

The Wildensteins are accused of having hidden, during succession in 2001 and 2008, of Patriarch Daniel and his eldest son Alec, the majority of their colossal fortune, a small part of which has come to light in violent family succession disputes.

Paintings by Fragonard and Bonnard, racehorses, luxury real estate including the ranch in Kenya where the film Out of Africa was filmed : the assets were mostly registered in "trusts", these Anglo-Saxon trust companies based in the Bahamas or in Guernsey, accused by the public prosecutor of having served as a "vector" for fraud.

In 2018, the Court of Appeal noted the prescription of public action for Guy Wildenstein, taking into account the first declaration of inheritance, dating from 2002, and not that of 2008. At the time, the prescription for the offense of tax fraud was three years, and proceedings were not initiated until 2011.

Wednesday, the Court of Cassation considered that, on this point, the court had "disregarded the texts", ruling on the contrary that the prescription had been "regularly interrupted". The high court also contradicted the Court of Appeal on another central element: the law providing a criminal framework for "trusts" in France, aptly known as the "Wildenstein law", which dates from July 29, 2011.

The Court of Appeal considered that before this law, there was no "sufficiently clear and certain obligation to declare assets placed in a trust," which meant that the offense of tax fraud could not the species be constituted. "By (ruling) thus, the court of appeal did not justify its decision", estimated the Court of Cassation, which qualified the elements of motivation on the "trusts" cited in the decision of "ambiguity, even contradictory".

Guy Wildenstein, a Franco-American now aged 75, is the main heir to three generations of art dealers. From the United States, he was an active support for the French right, in particular for ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the end of 2014, the French tax authorities had sent the heirs a record recovery of more than half a billion euros: in this aspect, a parallel civil procedure is still in progress. © Le Journal des arts