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Fraud

Former French Foreign Minister and a leading auctioneer ordered to trial over money kept back from Giacometti estate sales

Roland Dumas and Jacques Tajan face accusations of abuse of confidence after evidence suggests proceeds from auction were illicitly retained

Paris

The seemingly never-ending “affaire Giacometti” took a new twist in December when a French judge sent Roland Dumas, the disgraced former Foreign Minister, and auctioneer Jacques Tajan to trial for “abuse of confidence”.

Three years ago, Dumas was sentenced to two years in prison and a heavy fine in the unrelated Elf scandal. The silver-haired charmer was accused of corruption, notably for taking illegal gifts from his mistress, Christine Deviers-Joncour, a former lingerie model and a lobbyist for the oil group Elf Aquitaine. She subsequently gave her version of the events in a book, La pute de la République (The whore of the Republic).

Dumas’ conviction was controversially overturned in a French court last year. He now faces this new charge, which relates to the estate of Annette Giacometti, widow of Alberto. The leading French auctioneer Jacques Tajan has been charged with a similar offence and the case now goes forward to the Paris Tribunal.

The affair dates back to 1994, a year after Annette’s death. Annette Giacometti had directed that her fortune be used to create a foundation, which has now at last been created (see box). Dumas, who is also a lawyer, was her executor and gave Tajan a number of items from the estate to sell, in order to pay various costs. Eighteen pieces were auctioned for FFr42 million (£4.7 million, $8.2 million).

According to the hearing papers, Tajan kept about FFr8 million (£910,000, $1.3 million) for long after the sale. The Giacometti Association lost out on the income on the sum, which was enhancing Tajan’s balance sheet during a difficult period for his firm; the legal papers allege that Dumas was well aware of this situation.

The papers further allege that Tajan overcharged the Giacometti estate for various services, notably FFr2.5 million in legal fees paid to Dumas between 1994 and 1996. The hearing queried these fees, as Dumas had only worked on one very minor case during the period in question. Tajan’s justification was that Dumas had prepared a report on the art market and helped restructure the auction house but the court noted that it had found no written trace of the report nor of any contract between the auction house and the lawyer. According to the hearing, the sums were purely to reward Dumas for giving the Giacometti sale to Tajan.

Both Tajan and Dumas deny the charges; Tajan’s lawyer says that the auctioneer was “merely following Dumas’ instructions.” Dumas’ lawyer says his client had no authority to force Tajan to hand the auction proceeds over to a notary. No date has been set for the hearing.

A posthumous bronze bust of Diego Giacometti was one of a group sold at Tajan by the Giacometti Association in 2002 to cover “costs”. It made a double estimate E654,000

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Former French Foreign Minister and a leading auctioneer sent to trial'