Members of Art-Dealing Wildenstein Family Face Retrial in French Court

Members of Art-Dealing Wildenstein Family Face Retrial in French Court

Members of the Wildenstein family, possessors of one of the world’s largest collection of Old Masters, have been ordered by France’s highest court to face a retrial after being acquitted of tax fraud in 2018. The new trial will mark the third time the case against French American art dealer Guy Wildenstein; his nephew Alec Wildenstein, Jr.; and Liouba Soupakova, widow of Guy’s brother Alec Wildenstein—collectively referred to in the French press as “les W”—has come before the courts. Also being tried are a notary, a lawyer, and two trust-fund managers.The defendants were first tried on charges of tax fraud in 2016, accused of secreting some $675 billion in offshore accounts in order to avoid French taxes, instead claiming inheritance of just $50 billion on the 2001 death of Guy’s stepfather, Daniel Wildenstein and subsequent death in 2008 of Alec Sr. At that time, Guy, a friend of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, faced $307 million in fines, with “les W” to pay the French government $752 million in taxes owed if convicted. Mentioned as among the family’s assets were a vast wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, racehorses, stables, a New York apartment, dozens of paintings, and a Gulfstream jet. The case fell apart in 2017 owing to insufficient evidence and an inability on the part of the prosecution to prove that the family knowingly committed fraud. An appeal in 2018 saw the defendants exonerated once again.On January 6, however, the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest court, annulled the acquittal on the grounds that the statute of limitations does not apply to the succession of Alec Wildenstein and called for a retrial. Speaking to The Guardian, Guy Wildenstein’s lawyer, Hérve Ténime, who earlier painted the charges as “criminal fiction,” described the coming trial as a chance for him to “obtain another acquittal” for Wildenstein.

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