A former French budget minister went on trial Monday for hiding his wealth in tax havens around the world while at the same time leading the government’s fight against tax evasion.
Jerome Cahuzac appeared in a Paris court on charges of tax fraud and money laundering that saw him resign in 2013 in one of the biggest political scandals under President Francois Hollande.
The 64-year-old former cosmetic surgeon is accused of concealing at least 687,000 euros (USD 766,000) in income from tax authorities in 2009-2012. He’s also accused of laundering money in 2003-2013 through foreign bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore and dummy companies in Panama and the Seychelles.
Cahuzac, who acknowledged evading taxes for two decades, faces up to seven years in prison and a 1 million-euro (USD 1.1 million) fine if convicted.
The fraud helped him finance a lavish lifestyle, such as expensive vacations, court documents show. Investigators discovered that Cahuzac paid bills to one luxury hotel for a total of 127,000 euros (USD 142,000) for several stays with his ex-wife and their three children.
With the French presidential election eight months away, the trial is sure to revive voters’ memories of the scandal that tarnished Hollande’s mandate just a few months after the socialist president was elected in 2012, promising higher taxes on the rich. Hollande is widely expected to seek a second term next spring.
On trial today alongside Cahuzac are his former wife Patricia Menard; a banker; a legal adviser; and bank Reyl, a respectable but little-known Swiss establishment, all accused of money laundering.
Cahuzac and Menard entered the court today without speaking to reporters and sat separately as the judge summarized the case. The trial is expected to last two weeks. Menard is accused of hiding 2.5 million euros (USD 2.8 million) from French tax authorities and laundering money in the British tax haven of the Isle of Man and in Switzerland, allowing her to buy two London apartments estimated at around 3 million euros overall.
The Cahuzac couple has already paid 2.3 million euros (USD 2.6 million) in back taxes to French authorities.
The scandal was magnified by the fact that it involved France’s top tax-enforcement official and that as a minister Cahuzac publicly lied to Parliament and to the French people. French law does not sanction perjury.