France's financial prosecutor on Wednesday sought a three-year jail term for former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, who was forced to quit government three years ago over the discovery that he owned a secret bank account abroad.
Cahuzac, 64, a plastic surgeon by profession who was appointed budget minister when Socialist President Francois Hollande took power in 2012, stands accused of tax fraud and money laundering.
"You have tarnished this country's honor," Prosecutor Eliane Houlette said. "What has not been repaired, and will never be, is the harm done to our country, which became a laughing stock."
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The ex-minister, who had presented government proposals to clamp down on tax evasion in December 2013, quit three months later and admitted that he had indeed placed 600,000 euros ($667,000) abroad.
Judicial investigators later unearthed an account opened at Swiss bank UBS in the early 1990s that was later transferred to Singapore under the codename "Birdie".
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The prosecutor also sought a 1.875 million euro ($2.10 million) fine from the Reyl bank of Geneva, which in 2009 allegedly helped Cahuzac transfer funds to Singapore to avoid detection by French tax authorities, and an 18-month suspended jail term for its director, Francois Reyl.
The bank denies any wrongdoing. Francois Reyl told the court he had only played a technical role in the confidential request from the former minister, which appeared to have no tax evasion motive to him at the time.And from Philippe Sotto, French Tax Fraud Trial Portrays Example of 'World Plague' (ABC News 9/15/16), here. Excerpts:
Their hidden wealth in foreign bank accounts in Switzerland, Singapore and the British tax haven of the Isle of Man was estimated at 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) in 2013, assistant prosecutor Jean-Marc Toublanc said.
The value of their concealed assets likely was much higher because the money helped the couple finance a lavish lifestyle over the years, Toublanc said.
Branding tax evasion as a "world plague" and citing the Panama Papers scandal as a recent example, Toublanc called the Cahuzac spouses "among the biggest fraudsters" of whom French tax authorities are aware.
On trial in Paris alongside Cahuzac and his ex-wife were a banker, a legal adviser, and bank Reyl, a respectable but little-known Swiss establishment, all charged with money laundering.
During the trial, the former budget minister argued for the first time that he originally opened his Swiss account in 1992 to collect funds from drug companies. He said the money was to be used for illegal financing of a branch of the Socialist Party led by Michel Rocard, the former French prime minister who died in July.
However, Cahuzac did not provide any evidence for those claims.
After the first press reports that Cahuzac had a hidden foreign bank account surfaced in late 2012, Cahuzac publicly denied the allegations for months. He eventually admitted to the fraud in April 2013, saying he had been "trapped in a lying spiral." French law does not sanction perjury.JAT Comment: The sentence imposed should be interesting. Just the request for the length of the sentence suggests that the French may be more serious about offshore accounts than the U.S. is. Even in large cases, such as the Ty Warner case, U.S. prosecutors asked for far less a sentence and the court then imposed only probation.