Justice once again examines the fortune of the heirs of the Wildenstein art dealers

Since 2014, the tax authorities have claimed a total of 550 million euros for having concealed assets worth several billion euros.

The appeal trial of the heirs of the Wildenstein family of art dealers, suspected of colossal tax fraud, opened Monday in Paris. This is the third time that Guy Wildenstein, 77 years old, his nephew Alec junior, 43 years old, and his ex-sister-in-law Liouba Stoupakova, 50 years old, as well as two lawyers, a notary and two fund managers, have been called to appear before French justice.

«I pay my taxes in the United States», Explained Guy Wildenstein, the youngest son of art dealer Daniel Wildenstein (1917-2001), prosecuted in France for tax evasion and money laundering. Questioned about his income – the interrogation on the merits will take place later – the septuagenarian declares a salary of 1.2 million dollars per year, a very modest sum considering the estimate of his fortune. Guy Wildenstein indicates that he knew nothing about the trust system (a company under Anglo-Saxon law which houses assets entrusted by their owner to a trusted person) when his father died. First advisor Pascal Cladière asks him to repeat. “Until 2001, I knew nothing about it», insists the defendant in an elegant gray suit. “The trust does not belong to me“, he maintains.

The French tax administration considers that the goods “trustees» cannot escape tax. She identified 19 paintings by Bonnard (within the Sylvia Trust, estimated at nearly 65 million euros), a ranch in Kenya (within the David Trust, 11.4 million euros), the company Wildenstein and Co. (chaired by Guy Wildenstein but within the David Trust, 114.3 million euros) and other master paintings (within the Delta Trust).

«Machin suspect»

Before Guy Wildenstein’s statements, the defense lawyers raised three priority questions of constitutionality (QPC) on the jurisprudence on taxation. “Only the law can say that the tax is imposed“, said former President Jean-Yves Le Borgne, lawyer for one of the defendants. “The French lawyer does not like “trust”. For him, it’s a suspicious thing“, he quipped.

State officials and Attorney General Monica D’Onofrio argued that QPC’s requests were inadmissible. The court will announce its decision on these three QPCs on November 7, more than a month after the scheduled end of the trial. If the court had decided to transmit these QPCs to the Court of Cassation, the trial would have been automatically suspended.

Since 2014, the French tax authorities have demanded a total of 550 million euros from the heirs of this world-renowned family of art dealers for having hidden their fortune in trusts during the various successions. The court acquitted them in 2017, a decision confirmed before the court of appeal in 2018. But the Court of Cassation ordered a new trial. They are being prosecuted for having, after the deaths of Daniel Wildenstein in 2001 and then of his son Alec senior in 2008, concealed the majority of assets estimated at several billion euros, by placing them in “trusts».

The whole question is whether the Wildensteins had really disposed of their assets via these structures: if this was the case, they did not have to declare them. On the contrary, if they could dispose of it, they would have had to pay inheritance tax on the entire estate. Several civil proceedings are still underway, in parallel, concerning the considerable tax adjustments addressed to the heirs. The trial is due to end on October 4 and the decision of the court of appeal will be reserved.

By Editor

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