Nicolas Sarkozy's wealthy friend accused over 'stolen' art
A billionaire friend and financial backer of Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a possible jail sentence for allegedly accumulating “lost” and stolen paintings worth millions of pounds.
Guy Wildenstein, 65, was accused yesterday of “obtaining goods through abuse of trust”. If found guilty, the art dealer faces up to three years in prison.
Police seized works by artists including Degas and Manet when they raided the Wildenstein Institute in Paris in January.
They included Edouard Manet’s “Cafe Concert Singer”, which is valued at more than a million pounds, and “La Chaumière en Normandie” (“The Concert in Normandy”), by Berthe Morisot, which is worth around £750,000.
Yves Rouart, the cousin and heir of Anne-Marie Rouart, a descendant of Manet, claimed that some of the paintings were his. Mrs Rouart bequeathed the antique furniture from her apartment to her relation, while also appointing Mr Wildenstein as an executor.
According to Mr Rouart, the dealer went to Mrs Rouart’s home following her death in 1993 and removed paintings, including La Chaumière en Normandie by Berthe Morisot, which was valued at £750,000.
Mr Rouart filed a writ when the painting appeared at the Wildenstein Institute, alleging that it had effectively been stolen, which led to the police raid. Alexandre Bronstein, a descendant of Joseph Reinach, whose collection was looted by the Nazis during the Second World War, also claimed that several missing works appeared in the Wildenstein collection.
Mr Wildenstein was also under investigation over allegations of tax avoidance on the family’s £3 billion estate.
In 2009, Mr Sarkozy personally awarded Mr Wildenstein the Legion d’Honneur, one of France’s highest awards.
Hervé Temime, a lawyer for Mr Wildenstein, had no comment to make over the charge. However, his client had previously claimed that paintings such as La Chaumière en Normandie had appeared at his Paris institute because of an “oversight”
The family's estate is conservatively estimated at being worth around three-and-a-half billion pounds and includes a whole island in the Virgin Islands and a vast ranch in Kenya where the film Out Of Africa was filmed.
While disastrous for Guy Wildenstein, the latest charge could also have wide-ranging political implications.
The dealer, who is now based in New York, is among the gilded First Circle of super-rich financial backers of Mr Sarkozy.
In 2009 the President personally awarded Wildenstein with a Legion d'Honneur - one of France's highest honours - after publicly referring to him as 'Mon ami, Guy'.
The Wildenstein case is potentially as compromising to President Sarkozy as the so-called Bettencourt affair, which also involves a billionaire family known to have given financial support to the ruling UMP party.
L'Orial heiress Liliane Bettencourt is said to have personally handed brown envelopes full of cash to Mr Sarkozy before he ran for president - something he vehemently denies.
Herve Temime, lawyer for Guy Wildenstein in Paris, had no immediate comment to make on the latest scandal.
However, Wildenstein has in the past claimed that paintings like La Chaumihre en Normandie had appeared at his Paris Institute because of 'an oversight'.
A Paris police spokesman confirmed that Wildenstein had been charged on Wednesday and then released on bail.
Art Hostage Comments:
Art Hostage posted this story back in March 2008:http://stolenvermeer.blogspot.com/2008/03/stolen-art-watch-jean-marie-messier.html
Jean Marie Messier "Trainee Dr No" was the subject of an enquiry:
Still believe the so-called Dr No figure's don't exist.