Accounts in Luxembourg

Billionaire French senator barred from office over tax fraud

This file photo taken on September 20, 2016 shows CEO of the Dassault group Serge Dassault who faces court over tax fraud charges.
Photo: AFP

(AFP) - One of France's richest men, 91-year-old rightwing senator Serge Dassault, was fined two million euros on Thursday for tax fraud and barred from holding elected office for five years.

The head of aviation and software giant Dassault Group, which owns Le Figaro newspaper, was only spared jail because of his age.

Dassault is France's third wealthiest person, with a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine of 13.3 billion euros.

A Paris court found him guilty of hiding tens of millions of euros from the taxman in accounts in Liechtenstein and Luxembourg over a period of 15 years. The accounts contained 31 million euros in 2006, a figure that had fallen to 12 million euros in 2014.

The court said "the scale of the fraud, its duration and the political function carried out for a part of the period" would have justified a custodial sentence, had it not been for Dassault's "great age".

Dassault announced plans to appeal. He will not be forced to relinquish his senatorial seat -- which is up for grabs again in late 2017 -- until after the appeal is heard.

It is the second time a court has ordered that the controversial tycoon be stripped of his political position.

In 2009, his re-election as the mayor of the Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes was annulled over allegations he bought the votes of poor families of immigrant backgrounds.

The court heard that the money Dassault kept in foreign accounts may have been placed there in the 1950s by his father Marcel, who was imprisoned and deported during World War II for refusing to collaborate with Germany's aviation industry.

Marcel Dassault -- who changed his original surname Bloch to Dassault, which sounds like the French phrase for "on the attack" -- developed a propeller used by French pilots in World War I and went on to build fighter jets and establish Dassault Aviation.

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