Heir to the New York art-dealing empire, Guy Wildenstein, appeared in court yesterday (22 September) in Paris to address charges that he hid the family fortune in offshore tax havens for years. Estimated at over €1 billion (approximately £858 million), the Wildenstein riches are comprised of the Wildenstein & Co. art gallery in New York, a private jet, race horses and properties in New York, the Virgin Islands and Kenya. Guy’s father, Daniel Wildenstein was a renowned art collector, dealer and historian and also owned paintings by Caravaggio, Renoir, Picasso and Rembrandt among others.
Guy and his nephew, Alec Wildenstein, stand accused of fraudulently undervaluing the extent of the family’s wealth in French inheritance tax returns following Daniel’s death in 2001. Although he knew his father used trusts, Guy claims he was unaware of the details and was “neither a tax nor a financial specialist”. French authorities are seeking €553m (£475m) in back taxes and Guy could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years if convicted. Guy’s sister-in-law Liouba, three tax lawyers and two trusts are also defendants in the trial charged with committing or assisting tax fraud or money laundering.
The Wildenstein trial had been due to begin earlier in the year, but in January this year Guy and Alec successfully requested a delay. Claiming double-jeopardy, they argued the trial could not proceed while a parallel tax probe into their affairs took place. The trial resumed yesterday (22 September) but lawyers for Guy once again sought to suspend proceedings indefinitely until the tax case against their client is complete. The court is expected to rule on this request on Monday 26 September.