Art Dealer Guy Wildenstein Found Guilty of Tax Fraud

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Guy Wildenstein, the 78-year-old billionaire and patriarch of a French family of art dealers, has been found guilty of money laundering and tax fraud, following a years-long saga seeking his prosecution.

Wildenstein was sentenced by the Paris Appeals Court to four years in prison, The New York Times reported. However, Wildenstein isn’t expected to do any time behind bars. Instead, the dealer will spend two years under house arrest with a bracelet monitor, while the other half of his sentence has been suspended.

He was also reportedly ordered to pay a fine of about $1.08 million on top of all taxes he owes the French government. Authorities have seized €3.4 million, about $3.7 million, of his assets. Seven other defendants were also convicted, including his nephew Alec Wildenstein Jr. and his former sister-in-law, Liouba Stoupakova.

Wildenstein was accused of trying to avoid paying millions in inheritance taxes after the death of his father, Daniel Wildenstein, in 2001. Guy and his brother Alec had underreported the value of their father’s estate, failing to account for properties in Kenya and the Virgin Islands, as well as an art collection believed to be worth billions. When Alec died in 2008, Guy underreported his brother’s estate as well.

The family hid their collection and other assets in what the Times described as a “maze of trusts and shell companies.” Wildenstein did not set up the trusts himself but used them to underestimate his wealth.

The court did not find Wildenstein guilty of fraud in relation to the handling of Alec Wildenstein’s inheritance and acknowledged that some of the Wildenstein trusts used to hide the art did not appear to break French laws. For some others, the statute of limitations for a criminal conviction had run out.

Still, the court determined that the family had never given up ownership of assets inherited from Daniel Wildenstein and placed into such trusts.

Though the decision was reached March 5, the trial occurred back in September. It was the third time Guy Wildenstein stood trial in France since 2016, when he was first accused by prosecutors of operating the “the longest and most sophisticated tax fraud” in modern French history.

The tax-fraud scheme initially came to light nearly two decades ago when Daniel’s widow, Sylvia Wildenstein, accused her stepsons Guy and Alec of swindling her out of her inheritance by claiming their father died penniless. Sylvia died in 2010 but the evidence used by prosecutors to convict Guy had been brought forth by her and her lawyer.

Guy Wildenstein was previously acquitted in two other cases in France, in 2017 and 2018. The acquittals were later overturned abruptly by France’s highest court, leading to the new trial.

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