French-US art dealer Wildenstein faces appeal of tax fraud victory

Guy Wildenstein is facing a third trial over claims he and his family hid assets worth millions of euros from French tax authorities

French prosecutors said Tuesday that they would appeal a court ruling clearing Franco-American art dynasty heir Guy Wildenstein of massive tax fraud.

The ruling last week was the second setback for prosecutors in a case sparked by inheritance battles that has gripped high-society watchers.

The state accuses Wildenstein of concealing art treasures and properties worth hundreds of millions of euros from tax authorities.

But an appeals court last week said the alleged fraud fell outside the statute of limitations.

On Tuesday, the Paris prosecutor's office said it would not let the matter rest there and would pursue the case at the Cour de Cassation, France's court of final appeal.

Wildenstein, 72, is the heir of three generations of wealthy art dealers and thoroughbred racehorse breeders.

Most of the dynasty's billions are held in a web of trusts and holding companies stretching from the Channel Island of Guernsey to the Bahamas.

French authorities claimed that the family hid money after the deaths of Guy's father Daniel in 2001 and his brother Alec in 2008, both of whom died in Paris.

Apart from priceless artworks the Wildensteins have a vast real estate portfolio, with the jewel in the crown a luxurious Kenyan ranch which provided the backdrop for the film "Out of Africa".

Prosecutors had sought a four-year prison sentence and a fine of 250 million euros for Guy Wildenstein and other family members, including his nephew Alec Junior and his ex-stepsister Liouba Stoupakova.

But all the defendants were cleared, as were trust fund managers and lawyers who were put on trial.

The case had prompted the French government to change its law on trust funds in 2011 -- known as the "Wildenstein law" -- to give tax authorities greater power to pursue individuals who shift assets to offshore investment funds to avoid tax.

Guy Wildenstein is facing a third trial over claims he and his family hid assets worth millions of euros from French tax authorities