Wild Wildenstein patriarch cleared of tax fraud charges in France

Guy Wildenstein, of the wonderfully wicked Wildenstein family, has been cleared of charges in France for avoiding paying millions of dollars in inheritance taxes by hiding his fortune in a complicated network of trusts.

The decision to acquit Wildenstein was a surprising one, and a judge who had presided over the case earlier said that it “[defied] common sense” because there was a “clear intention” on the part of the Wildensteins to hide their money. However, French legislation requiring the declaration of foreign trusts was not put into place until 2011, which provided the Wildensteins some wiggle room that their lawyer took full advantage of.

Authorities had been seeking a €250 million fine plus prison time for Wildenstein (other members of his family were also named in the suit). The prosecutors accused him and his late brother Alec of moving assets and artwork into trusts and tax havens in Switzerland after their father Daniel died in 2001. These assets were discovered when Daniel’s ex-wife, Sylvia, sued Alec and Guy for hiding assets from her after Daniel’s death.

Guy’s legal troubles, however, are far from over. The state is still saying he owes €500 million in back taxes and he faces a number of complaints about the provenance of artworks he owns.

The Wildensteins have been shedding their assets lately to support their legal difficulties; Guy listed his Sutton Place mansion in December for nearly $40 million and his son David sold an enormous Upper East Side townhouse he owns for $81 million in November.