French court upholds ex-minister's fraud conviction, but no jail

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A French appeals court on Tuesday upheld a tax fraud conviction against former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, whose hidden overseas accounts became one of the most embarrassing episodes of Francois Hollande's Socialist presidency.

But the judges reduced his sentence from an initial three years behind bars to two years with two more suspended.

Sentences of two years' jail time or less are usually reduced in France to community service.

At the same time Cahuzac, a former plastic surgeon, was handed a new 300,000 euro ($355,000) fine and barred from holding public office for five years.

Cahuzac, who had been tasked with cracking down on tax cheats, was forced to resign from the government in 2013 after it emerged that he stashed hundreds of thousands of euros in a Swiss bank account.

Asked about the money, which came from his lucrative Parisian hair transplant clinic, he then lied both to Hollande and parliament before coming clean, and was convicted in 2016.

Cahuzac, 65, appeared calm as his sentence was read at the Paris courthouse on Tuesday. He had spoken during the appeal trial of his "fear of going to prison".

The ruling was a blow to France's financial crimes office, set up in the wake of the scandal, which had urged the court to uphold the sentence for an "exceptionally serious" crime.

During his 2016 trial Cahuzac told the court he hid funds offshore to maintain his family's standard of living, which included apartments for his children in London and Paris and holidays in Mauritius.

His ex-wife Patricia Menard, who held an account in the Isle of Man that was also used to hide money, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Cahuzac's bank in Geneva, Reyl, was fined 1.9 million euros and its boss Francois Reyl was handed a one-year suspended jail term and a 375,000 euro fine for helping Cahuzac move his funds to offshore companies.

Neither Menard, the bank nor its chief had appealed their sentences.


© 2018 AFP

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