Lawyer who sparked criminal probe into Guy Wildenstein tax case found guilty of fraudulently hiding $5.1m

Claude Dumont-Beghi has managed to partially challenge her conviction, though judges uphold money laundering decision

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The French lawyer Claude Dumont-Beghi in her office in 2011

Photo: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

The French lawyer Claude Dumont-Beghi in her office in 2011

Photo: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

For years, the French lawyer Claude Dumont-Beghi publicly berated Guy Wildenstein, heir of the famous Wildenstein art dealing dynasty family, for allegedly cheating his stepmother Sylvia out of her inheritance windfall.

Dumont-Beghi’s campaign sparked a criminal trial in which Wildenstein was accused of stashing works of art worth more than $1bn in offshore trusts—set up by Guy’s father Daniel—in a bid to evade French tax authorities. The Wildensteins maintain that the art belonged to family trusts and shouldn’t count for estate taxes.

According to Bloomberg, Dumont-Beghi has now been convicted of aggravated tax fraud and money laundering for concealing $5.1m she obtained from her client in the mid-2000s, in an undeclared account at HSBC Holdings in New York.

The guilty verdict only came to light after Dumont-Beghi challenged her conviction in court this month; she was found guilty in February 2019 and given an 18-month suspended sentence. That sentence was confirmed during an appeal hearing a year later, but her fine was upped from €100,000 to €750,000.

Dumont-Beghi’s latest challenge appears to have been partially successful—judges in the Cour de Cassation, the highest court in the French judicial system, now suggest her sentence may need to be lessened, Bloomberg reports. The judges upheld the money laundering conviction but questioned the aggravated circumstances of her tax fraud conviction.

Dumont-Beghi could not be reached immediately for comment but has denied any intent to conceal assets and maintains she has paid tax authorities what she owed. However, tax officials say she skipped nearly €150,000 in income tax and just over €120,000 in wealth tax.

Meanwhile, according to Le Monde, Guy Wildenstein’s defamation case against Dumont-Beghi, which was due to begin on 16 December, has been abandoned. In her 2016 book, Les Billiards cachés des Wildenstein, the lawyer accused Wildenstein of inheritance fraud.

Wildenstein and his nephew, Alec Jr, were acquitted of tax fraud in 2017 and again in 2018. However, in January, France’s High Court ordered a retrial, though no date has been set yet. Guy Wildenstein’s lawyer Hervé Témine previously told The Art Newspaper he strongly believes there will be “a third acquittal”.

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