Friday, October 19, 2018

French tax administration helps Guy Wildenstein to disinherit

Inheritance is undoubtedly a touchy subject for the Wildensteins. This old family of art dealer seems to have gotten strangely accustomed to scandals when it comes to their heiresses.

In the Wildenstein family, women are not really lucky with inheritance. That is the least one could say when taking a look back to history of these uncommon art dealers’ family. For 10 years, Sylvia Roth struggle in court to get the inheritance her husband Daniel Wildenstein wished to give her. She was deceived by her in-laws who told her that the inheritance would come along with tremendous fiscal debts in France. The story was made up, but Sylvia believed it. Hence she was deceptively convinced not to take her share of the family’s fortune. When she realized she had been played on, Sylvia Roth went to court. It took her several years to convince the court and get 15 million euros from what her well-off husband left her. Since then, the same story has repeated over again with Liouba Wildenstein.

Things are not what they seem

Liouba is a Russian-born sculptor, a former model and the wife of Alec Wildenstein. The couple spent ten years together, mainly in their Kenyan Ranch. But this idyllic story ended when Alec was diagnosed a lethal disease and died several years later in 2008. Then the Wildenstein intended to deal with the widow just like they did earlier with Sylvia. Liouba was told her husband owed several millions euros in tax and was offered a small settlement in counterpart for her renouncing to Alec’s estate. Unlike Sylvia however, Liouba was not fooled by the proposition and did not accept the deal.

Alec’s wife then became an enemy to the family and the Wildenstein did all they could to limit her rights. Or most likely, they started doing so even before Alec’s death. When he was sick, their lawyers set up the fictitious tax debt scenario that they presented to Liouba afterwards. The trap to force her into renouncing Alec’s succession was ready way before the inheritance was even a problem. When Alec Wildenstein died, the trap closed on Liouba in spite of her husband’s efforts to keep her comfortable after his death. France’s tax department hence came and knocked on Liouba’s door claiming she owed a personal tax debt of about 3.7m€. Liouba’s lawyer later discovered that the Wildensteins’ tax adviser was a former official from the tax administration and the lawyer of Liouba’s brother-in-law Guy Wildenstein.

In that story, Liouba Wildenstein is vowed to be the perfect victim. She is a foreigner. She has little knowledge of her rights and the family’s estate. She is therefore expected to be influenced easily. Besides, the Wildenstein family is close to France’s key men of power. Guy Wildenstein is one of the first donator to former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, and some of his closest advisors like Olivier Riffaud used to work for the French tax department. Facing all these arguments, she could have been convinced by her in-laws like Sylvia did. But her faith in her husband Alec prevented her from resigning herself so easily.

Breaking the vicious circle

Alec Wildenstein’s heiress was sent anonymous death threats by SMS in November 2009. Liouba Wildenstein was poisoned with arsenic, lead and mercury later on and filed a complaint for attempted murder. Since then, French authorities have been looking for who might have tried to kill Liouba Wildenstein. But strangely enough, fiscal procedure did not stopped even though the heiress still does not own anything of Daniel Wildenstein’s wealth. Guy Wildenstein’s influence over the previous government and his relationship in the tax administration probably plays a crucial part in this time of the story.

Guy Wildenstein is known for being a close acquaintance of Nicolas Sarkozy who used to call him his friend publicly. Guy Wildenstein was also one of the first donator of the former president’s political campaign. But it does not explain why the prosecution against Liouba keeps going on now that a socialist government rules France. Are Guy Wildenstein’s relationships so high-ranking in the administration that his interests are still watchfully taken into account? Or does he have an agreement with French Secretary of the Treasury Pierre Moscovici? Be it this of something else, the tax administration is surely being used at the Wildenstein Family’s advantage.

The Wildenstein family has a strange way with women. Of course Liouba’s situation is quite different from Sylvia’s since she was not legally considered to be one of Daniel Wildenstein’s heirs as per French law. Liouba Wildenstein on the other hand was designated as Alec’s heir and therefore Daniel’s heir. Yet both Sylvia and Liouba have been subject of the same kind of tax pressure initiated by the Wildenstein family to force them to renounce claiming any degree of ownership regarding the family’s fortune. It is difficult to believe that France tax department do not figure out the absurdity of the situation. But dealing with one of the wealthiest American family with privileged relationship in the administration must definitely give a hard time to the court, and drive some people blind.

About the Writer

Olivia Harris is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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