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Winemaker’s tax troubles shake canton of Valais

Published: 13 Dec 2013 11:55 GMT+01:00

Dominique Giroud is a pillar of the canton’s wine-making industry with a successful track record for the past 15 years whose company has sponsored the Sion football club, as well other sports clubs and events such as the Patrouille des Glaciers, the celebrated ski mountaineering race.

But several weeks ago Le Temps newspaper revealed that Giroud was under investigation by tax authorities in Bern for failing to disclose millions of francs in profits from 2001 to 2009.

In September, authorities froze 11.5 million francs’ worth of assets belonging to Giroud’s wife and his company Giroud Vins SA.

The information was a well-guarded secret until it was leaked to Le Temps.

Giroud told Le Nouvelliste, a newspaper in Valais, last week that he was in the process of settling the tax dispute and the “different points of view” with federal authorities.

The disclosure of the tax fraud investigation was greeted with incredulity in the Valais wine industry, especially given the size of the profits involved, Le Matin newspaper reported.

“It’s not through wine that you can make such profits, even with a big cellar,” an unidentified member of the Valais parliament is quoted as saying.

Other representatives of the canton’s wine industry — the biggest in Switzerland — are loath to comment on the issue publicly.

But the scandal has taken on a political dimension given Giroud’s connections with members of the Valais cantonal government.

He is reputedly a friend of Oskar Freysinger, a cantonal cabinet minister and federal MP.

Freysinger, a member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, has earned a certain notoriety for his views against Muslim immigration and in favour of Switzerland’s ban on minarets.

In 2011, he welcomed Dutch right-wing extremist Geert Wilders in Giroud’s wine cellar after a local municipality refused to allow him in the village hall.

Freysinger described the news of the tax probe as an “orchestrated leak” and an effort to “politically destabilize” the canton.

He said that opponents were going after Giroud in a bid to weaken Maurice Tornay, Valais’s minister of finances and a member of the Christian Democrat party.

Before becoming a minister, Tornay headed a financial services firm that audited the winemaker’s company, although the politician has denied any involvement in the case.

If Giroud is found guilty of dodging taxes at the federal, cantonal and municipal level, he could face hefty penalties of more than 20 million francs, according to Le Matin.

But Freysinger said the case should not be overstated.

“There is litigation on the taxes as can happen every day in Switzerland,” he told Le Matin.

“There is a procedure under way and I await to see the real result — I am waiting for proof.”

Le Nouvelliste, the local daily whose publisher Jean-Marie Fournier is reportedly close to Giroud, has supported the idea that the news about his tax troubles was intentionally leaked.

In an editorial, the paper identified Brigitte Hauser, a high civil servant and an associate of federal Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, as the source for the leak.

Contacted by Le Matin, Hauser denied this was the case, adding she was shocked by the accusation and is considering legal action. 

For more about Giroud's wine company check this YouTube video :

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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