Tax evasion protesters ambush French ‘chair-theft’ trial
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Protesters and politicians have hijacked the trial of a French activist who stole chairs from a BNP bank branch, determined to turn the proceedings into a “counter-trial of tax evasion”.
Hundreds of supporters, some dressed as cigar-smoking bankers, rallied in the southwestern city of Dax on Monday, calling for the release of environmental activist Jon Palais, who went on trial for the theft of 14 chairs from a Paris bank branch in October 2015.
Protesters included Green Party presidential candidate Yannick Jadot, and renowned farmer activist José Bové. Another former presidential candidate, the prominent anti-corruption magistrate Eva Joly, was also present as part of Palais’s legal team.
The chair-stealing stunt was part of a campaign to raise awareness of bankers’ role in aiding and abetting tax evasion. It followed the disclosure of damning documents leaked from banks involved in widespread fraud.
Palais and other activists stole some 200 chairs from dozens of bank branches before the start of the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015. Their aim was to show that the fight against global warming could be financed by using the proceeds derived from tax evasion.
The chairs were eventually deposited outside the Paris Court of Justice in February 2016, in a move timed to coincide with the start of the high-profile trial of disgraced former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who had been appointed to clamp down on tax evasion and was instead jailed for tax fraud.
Palais faces up to five years in prison and 75,000 euros in fines for the “organised theft” of chairs, though he is unlikely to go to jail. BNP, one of the world’s largest banks, has asked for a symbolic compensation of 1 euro.
Noting that the chairs had been returned, Jean-Luc Puyo, the public prosecutor, called for an “exemption from penalty”. He described Palais’s movement as “pacifist and good-natured” and lamented the absence in court of representatives of the Paris-based bank.