French political power couple lose appeal against money-laundering conviction
The Paris Court of Appeal on Wednesday found veteran right-wing politicians Patrick and Isabelle Balkany guilty of money-laundering and sentenced them both to jail, sealing the power couple’s fall from grace after a protracted legal battle.
The Balkany couple, who for years governed the chic Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, were sentenced to prison terms of five and four years respectively.
But they were not ordered behind bars immediately pending an appeal to France’s highest court. Patrick Balkany, a close friend of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, had been released to house arrest in February because of health problems.
The two had already lost in March an appeal against tax fraud convictions after they were found guilty of using offshore accounts to hide at least €13 million ($14.4 million) in assets from the tax authorities, including luxury villas in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh and in the West Indies.
On Wednesday, the appeals court confirmed the seizure of assets as well as the payment of €1 million in damages, saying the couple had implemented a system of "persistent fraud".
The pair were also banned from holding elected office for 10 years, dealing a possible death blow to their long and storied careers.
Patrick Balkany, 71, who appeared in the Paris courtroom without his wife, made no comment after the decision. His lawyer Romain Dieudonne said he had five days to decide on a further appeal, while his wife's lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur told reporters the ruling was "excessive."
The jail terms handed down last year — extremely rare for French politicians — were widely heralded as proof that the legal system no longer shirks from holding the powerful to account.
Patrick Balkany was first elected mayor of Levallois-Perret in 1983 and also held a seat in parliament for many years.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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