“The rich are” - you don’t have to add Scott Fitzgerald’s words to make the point. Laws and rules are different for the likes of them when it comes to crime. Last July, I wrote about crime in the genteel, well-mannered world of art - forgery, money laundering, tax evasion and the like [“Art Crime Death and Taxes”]. Million dollar felonies by millionaires became mere accounting errors punished by the filing of amended tax returns and the payment of taxes due, without interest or penalties. Nice work if you can get it.
The lead case then pending was France’s $600 million tax evasion prosecution of Guy Wildenstein, his family, their bankers and retainers which had been ongoing since 2013. A blanket of silence had obscured the proceedings since that January and “[m]y inquiries about the resolution of the l’Affaire Wildenstein were met with stone silence.”
I believed and wrote that the prosecution would end with a whimper; the French authorities would apply liberté, égalité, fraternité, leavened with an ample dose of “the rich are”, and drop the charges. After all, Guy Wildenstein is one of the elite, a friend of President Sarkozy, a member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, a Chevalier of the Légion D’honeur, a wealthy man, not a man likely to do time.
Last October I was gobsmacked to read that the prosecutor was asking France’s High Court for Financial Crimes to find Guy Wildenstein guilty of tax evasion and money laundering, sentencing him to four years in prison – with two years suspended – and fining him $275 million dollars.
I thought, finally France has declared open season on tax evasion by the rich and famous, justice will prevail. I started drafting a new conclusion to my article. Not so fast.
Last Thursday the French court applying a reverse variation of noblesse oblige acquitted M. Wildenstein and company of all criminal charges. Olivier Géron, the Presiding Judge read the court’s decision acquitting Guy, his family and retainers even though he found the judgment “defies common sense” and was contrary to the “clear intention [of the defendants] to conceal their wealth across generations”.
In other words, they are guilty as sin, they meant to do the crime but won’t have to do the time, proving once again that the rich are.