French Art Dealer Guy Wildenstein Found Guilty of Tax Fraud - The World News

French Art Dealer Guy Wildenstein Found Guilty of Tax Fraud

Guy Wildenstein, a billionaire gallerist and the patriarch of one of France’s most famous art-dealing dynasties, has been found guilty of tax fraud, per a report in the New York Times. The verdict brings to an end a years-long legal saga centering Wildenstein, who has been accused of hiding masterworks of his collection from tax authorities to avoid hundreds of millions of euros in inheritance taxes. 

Wildenstein, 78, is president of Wildenstein & Co. in New York. He received a four-year prison sentence by the Paris appeals court.

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PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 06:  Franco-American art dealer Guy Wildenstein (R) arrives at the Paris courthouse with his lawyer Herve Temime (L) for the second day of his trial on January 6, 2016 in Paris, France. Guy Wildenstein is going on trial on charges of defrauding the French state of half a billion euros (about $550 million) in taxes.  (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Per the Times, half of the sentence is suspended, and the other half will be served under house arrest. Wildenstein has also been ordered to pay a 1 million euro fine (about $1.08 million).

In 2017, Wildenstein was acquitted of tax fraud and money laundering charges stemming from allegations that he had hidden high-value art and other assets inherited from his father, who passed away in 2001, in a web of foreign trusts and shell companies. The ruling was overturned by a French appeals court in 2021.

Over five generations, the Wildenstein family collected and sold blue-chip artworks with a near-unprecedented secrecy in France. The collection is believed to include works by Old Masters like Caravaggio and Fragonard, and is thought to count among the world’s most expensive ones of its kind.

In 2011, a new law required that French citizens disclose assets held in foreign trusts. After the law was enacted, further light was shed on their dealings by a slew of lawsuits that were “filed by women in the family who were cut off from its vast fortune during messy divorces and inheritance squabbles,” according to the New York Times.

Prosecutors say the Wildenstein family pulled off “the longest and most sophisticated tax fraud” in the history of modern France in part to their savvy use of storage: artworks were scattered across multiple countries, shell corporations, and innocuous holding facilities such as a nuclear bunker in the Catskill Mountains, a former fire station in New York, and sites in the Bahamas and the Channel Islands.

The initial charges were brought in 2016 and spurred by information leaked to authorities from Daniel Wildenstein’s widow and Guy’s stepmother, Sylvia. In his first defense, Wildenstein claimed he inherited only $50 billion following the deaths of his father and brother and failed to disclose $675 billion in assets, “including an enormous wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, racehorses, stables, a New York apartment, dozens of paintings, and a Gulfstream jet,” per Artforum.

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