• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
French-US art dynasty in multi-billion squabble
Lloyd Klein and Jocelyn Wildenstein attend the Jean-Yves Klein: Chimeras Exhibition at Gallery Molly Krom on October 8, 2015 in New York City. Photo: AFP

French-US art dynasty in multi-billion squabble

AFP · 4 Jan 2016, 08:58

Published: 04 Jan 2016 08:58 GMT+01:00

A multi-generational inheritance squabble in one of the world's foremost art-dealing dynasties with a penchant for thoroughbred
racehorses will be played out in a Paris court from Monday.

In a case worthy of a soap opera, the spotlight will be thrown on the activities of New-York based Wildenstein and Company when several family members go on trial on charges of tax fraud and money-laundering.

Franco-American Guy Wildenstein, 70, and his entourage are at the heart of the investigation and could face up to 10 years in jail in a saga which has gripped high-society watchers.

The case follows an investigation into years of alleged coordinated attempts by the dynasty to place assets beyond the reach of the taxman.

Wildenstein, a silver-haired art dealer who owns and breeds race horses, was in 2009 awarded France's highest award by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

But a year later, French investigators began looking into his affairs following accusations he concealed much of his inherited fortune from the taxman and from his heirs via a web of opaque trusts and tax havens.

Treasure trove

Sylvia Roth, widow of the gallerist's father, Daniel Wildenstein, filed a criminal complaint against her stepson to that effect in a bitter dispute over the size of the family fortune.

Daniel Wildenstein died in 2001, whereupon, the French authorities allege, his heirs began hastily transferring abroad assets of the dynasty from New York.

After his death, Guy Wildenstein assumed control of the arts business, while younger sibling Alec concentrated on horse breeding.

But Guy also assumed control of the latter when Alec -- who achieved public renown for his messy divorce from Swiss socialite and cosmetic surgery devotee Jocelyne Perisse, nicknamed "Bride of Wildenstein" -- died in 2008.

French tax authorities believe the Wildensteins could owe some €550 million ($600 million).

In 2008, the dynasty valued Daniel's estate at just $61 million after Guy took over as president of the family's gallery empire.

That was despite assets including a host of works by rococo painter Fragonard and post-impressionist Bonnard and a stable of thoroughbred horses including Ascot Gold Cup winner Westerner.

It also included a vast real estate portfolio, with the jewel in the crown a luxury Kenyan ranch which provided the backdrop for the film "Out of Africa".

Such assets were in the main registered in tax havens in a series of trusts, including one named "Delta" which alone holds paintings worth an estimated billion dollars, according to a source quoting the US tax collection service IRS.

Guy and Alec Wildenstein together declared just €40.9 million for inheritance tax purposes in 2002. To pay the 17.7 million euro bill, they handed over bas-reliefs sculpted for Marie-Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI.

Guy says there was no legal obligation to report trust-held assets on his father's death.

Story continues below…

According to the French investigation, the IRS will also pursue unpaid taxes for artworks.

A family affair

Due in court for a month-long trial are Guy, his nephew Alec Junior and Alec's widow Liouba Stoupakova, who is herself at loggerheads with her in-laws.

A notary, two lawyers and two trust managers -- the trusts are held in Guernsey and the Bahamas -- will also be in the dock.

It is likely the case would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the legal battles fought by female members of the clan -- not least Jocelyne, whose 1998 divorce settlement lifted the veil on the Wildensteins' business dealings.

In a rare interview three months ago, Guy Wildenstein said he knew little about tax and declared that "my father never used to talk to me about his business affairs".

He said he hoped he would not be made into a "scapegoat".

Today's headlines
BREAKING
Ten children struck by lightning in Paris park
Photo: AFP

Eleven people including ten children have been injured by lightning during a thunderstorm at Parc Monceau in Paris on Saturday.

What to expect when working in a bar in Paris
Photo: Fabrizio Morrola/Flickr

Fancy the idea of a bar job in Paris? There are a few things you need to know first, writes bartender Lauren Belcher.

Five key tips to opening a bank account in France
Photo: Dave Dugdale/Flickr

Avoid the headaches. Read this before opening a bank account in France.

Afghan migrant killed by lorry in Calais
French riot police guard a truck after migrants tried to mount several trucks near the Eurotunnel, near Calais earlier this year. Photo: AFP

A 25-year-old Afghan migrant was killed by a lorry on a motorway near the French port city of Calais in the early hours of Saturday, according to officials.

French PM Valls stakes political career on union fight
A demonstrator wears a sticker featuring France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls last week in Nantes, western France, during a protest against government planned labour law reforms. Photo: AFP

Engaged in a fierce tug of war with unions and some of his own party over labour reforms, France's embattled Prime Minister Manuel Valls has staked his political career on staring down the crisis.

Which of France's strikes could affect Euro 2016?
Photos: AFP

A series of ongoing strikes in France could continue to affect the country throughout the Euro 2016 tournament, which starts in just two weeks.

Fuel crisis eases as French police unblock depots
Tires on fire in front of an oil depot near the Total refinery of Donges, western France, on Friday. Photo: AFP

After a week of fuel shortages in France, things are improving in time for the weekend.

Opinion - French strikes
'Stop pissing everyone off': French boss to union chief
Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union. Photo: AFP

In an open letter to the man attempting to bring France to a standstill, a business owner tells him to stop "living in the past" and stop "pissing everyone off".

Want a '30-hour work week'? Move to Paris (or Lyon)
Lunchtime in Paris? Photo: reynermedia/Flickr

Workers in Paris and Lyon put in the fewest hours out of 71 major cities around the world. Lazy or supremely efficient.

The nations the French love to make fun of the most
Photo: Romain Seignovert

The British are not the French's top target, believe it or not.

National
Which of France's strikes could affect Euro 2016?
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
'You're not welcome': French police chief warns English yobs
How to avoid running out of fuel if you're coming to France
National
It's Neighbours' Day! But what does it all mean?
National
The French fuel crisis for dummies: 27 key questions
National
The trials and tribulations of moving to rural France
National
Five free smartphone apps to help you find petrol in France
National
A complete guide to France's (many) ongoing strikes
Culture
Paris: Street artist makes the Louvre pyramid disappear
Interactive map: Where to find petrol in France
Who is the French union in a 'fight to the death' with the government?
Society
Opinion: Why the French are absolutely right to go on strike
National
Here's why both sides despise France's labour reforms
National
Who is really to blame for the fuel crisis in France?
National
Here are the parts of France hardest hit by the fuel shortages
Travel
It will soon be time to say 'au revoir' to the Paris Metro ticket
Culture
Revealed: The ultimate sex map of France
National
Migrants at Calais camp given dignity in death
International
How good is security at Charles de Gaulle airport?
Culture
How to make a traditional French cassoulet
Culture
IN PICS: Commuter trains in Paris get royal makeover
International
Terror attack 'likeliest cause' of missing EgyptAir plane
International
Who was on board the missing EgyptAir flight from Paris?
2,738
jobs available