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France charges art heir with tax evasion

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15:45 CET+01:00
Famed international art dealer Guy Wildenstein has been charged with tax evasion and money laundering in France following an investigation launched by the finance ministry, a judicial source said Wednesday.

Wildenstein, the French-American heir to an art-dealing dynasty, was charged on January 24, the source said, adding that his family's notaries and a bank based in the Bahamas had also been charged with complicity in tax evasion. The bank is also facing money laundering charges.

The French finance ministry filed a complaint against Wildenstein in July 2011 and a formal investigation was launched in October 2011.

One of Wildenstein's lawyers, Olivier Riffaut, was charged in early 2012 with "aggravated money laundering" and placed under judicial supervision as part of the probe.

Wildenstein is alleged to have avoided paying tax on the huge fortune  estimated in the billions  passed on to the heirs of his father, famed art dealer Daniel Wildenstein, upon his death in 2001.

The Wildenstein dynasty was established in France in the late 1800s by Daniel's grandfather Nathan, who amassed a major collection of 18th century French paintings, drawings and sculptures. 

The family has since become one of the most well-known in the art world and operates the Wildenstein & Company art gallery in Manhattan.

Wildenstein, 67, whose brother Alec was married to eccentric New York socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein, is facing separate legal troubles after being charged last July in France with concealing art that had been "reported missing or stolen".

A French anti-art theft squad at the time seized some 30 paintings from the Wildenstein Institute in Paris.

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