The heiress to the Nina Ricci fashion house in France has been given a three-year sentence for tax fraud. The case began after records were released from the Swiss arm of HSBC's private bank.
The 73-year-old heiress of the fashion and perfume house Nina Ricci, Arlette Ricci, was convicted of tax fraud by a Paris court on Monday. The court said Ricci had hidden about 18.7 million euros ($19.8 million) that she inherited from her father from the French authorities "for more than 20 years with particular determination."
Ricci was given a three-year sentence, with two years suspended, for hiding the millions in the Swiss accounts of the HSBC bank. She was also instructed to pay 10.5 million euros in back-taxes and fines.
The court ordered the confiscation of two properties in Paris and Corsica worth 4 million euros. The court said Ricci's actions had posed "an exceptional threat to public order."
The court also gave Ricci's tax lawyer a one-year suspended sentence and ordered him to pay a 10,000-euro fine.
Ricci was not present in court for the verdict, but has denied the charge that she hid the money.
Telephone recordings quoted in court apparently showed that the perfume heiress was aware she was breaking the law, at one point saying: "because all that is illegal anyway."
Ricci's lawyer Jean-Marc Fedida criticized what he called the severity of the sentence, adding the "glamour" side of his client offered the court the opportunity to make her an example to deter other would-be tax fraudsters.
"The court took an extremely severe decision within an extremely difficult context under a lot of pressure," Fedida said. He is considering an appeal and may ask the judge to allow Ricci to serve her term under less strict conditions, such as partial liberty or by wearing an electronic bracelet.
Ricci's daughter, Margot Vignat, was also convicted and given an eight-month suspended sentence. In addition to the other fines, Vignat and Ricci were ordered to pay 100,000 euros in damages to the French government.
The Nina Ricci house was founded in 1932 in Paris and is known for its luxury perfumes.
The case came to light after former HSBC employee Herve Falciani leaked a list of accounts to French tax authorities in 2008. France shared the list with other governments and began investigations.
The prosecution of Ricci has been seen as a test case and the first of around 50 against French nationals for tax evasion in the HSBC case.
Last week, French authorities placed London-based HSBC under formal criminal investigation for alleged tax fraud by its Swiss private bank. HSBC said the claim was "without legal basis."
In February, France's Le Monde newspaper reported that HSBC's Swiss arm allegedly helped more than 120,000 clients to hide 180.6 billion euros from tax authorities.
jm/cmk (AFP, AP)