At the Wendel trial, Ernest-Antoine Seillière defends himself of having wanted to deceive the taxman

“Indignant” to be facing a court, the former president of Medef Ernest-Antoine Seillière defended himself Thursday of having wanted to deceive the tax authorities up to 79 million euros in 2007, affirming that he was persuaded at the time of the legality of the financial scheme used.

Going from good word to outburst, the former chairman of the supervisory board of Wendel, 84, was questioned for nearly four hours on a profit-sharing program called Solfur, which earned him to be tried for tax evasion. alongside thirteen other defendants.

Although he launched Solfur in 2004, Ernest-Antoine Seillière asserts that he did not participate in the development, at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, of the skilful financial arrangement which then enabled 14 executives to recover 4.6% of the capital, i.e. 315 million euros in capital gains, without being taxed.

The dozens of emails on the subject between executives of the investment company, their lawyers and the bank JP Morgan, he says he discovered them during the investigation. “I read all the documents and I must say that I knew absolutely nothing about them”, assures the defendant, gray suit and deep voice.

In January 2007, some of the managers were “briefed” during a seminar in the wealthy ski resort of Meribel, in the Alps. But assures him that he was informed afterwards, “orally and informally”, then by a note of March 12, 2007, written by lawyers from the renowned firm Debevoise & Plimpton.

Transmitted to all executives, this long note details the financial clockwork of the assembly and weighs the associated “tax risk” at length.

On the one hand, the assembly, which has a “very interesting tax consequence”, “suits me perfectly”, declares Ernest-Antoine Seillière, himself a member of the Wendel family which controls the capital of the company.

But the note also develops a “risk of + abuse of rights +”, that is to say the possibility that the tax authorities see in the scheme a circumvention of the law.

It was ultimately the “last paragraph” that “totally carried my conviction”, continues the defendant before reading it, emphasizing each word: “The risk that the scheme described in this memorandum could be considered by the tax authorities as an abuse of rights is void!”

The president of the court takes it up: the document specifies that this risk is “zero”, but under certain conditions…

“Listen, if I go to prison for that, then okay!” Gets angry Baron Seillière, who repeats it: for him, the note was “perfectly reassuring”.

– “Madam Minister” –

Over the questions, he assures that he had no “doubt”. “If this note had said: + guys, do not do this case because the abuse of rights is still too risky, we would have stopped immediately!” he throws.

For the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), the defendants voluntarily created companies only to artificially benefit from a legal mechanism, the “suspension of taxation”, in order to defer or even not pay tax.

If they had received the securities directly and not via these structures, they would have been taxed at 27% – Mr. Seillière would have paid 29 million.

According to the complaint from the tax authorities, he became the owner of 1% of the capital of Wendel, worth 79 million euros, for an initial investment of 211,000 euros.

The tax authorities, meanwhile, judged the arrangement fraudulent and notified at the end of 2010 a heavy tax adjustment to each of the executives. 56 million for Mr. Seillière whom he challenged before the administrative justice, before concluding a transaction with the tax authorities, the amount of which has not been disclosed.

In the same vein, the defendant accuses a member of his family who had lodged a complaint at the start of the case, as well as Jérôme Cahuzac, chairman of the finance committee of the Assembly and then Minister of the Economy, of having an “obsession” for Wendel.

“I would like to say with what indignation we feel our presence in front of you”, finally declares the former boss of bosses, who continues on a slip: “Obviously, Madam Minister…”, before interrupting in the hilarity of the room.

He continues: “We have been for more than 10 years heavily disturbed in our personal lives, without ever having had the feeling of being guilty of anything and of having given back to our country, where we were, as we could, service”.

The trial continues Monday after the interrogation of the other defendants.

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