Frenchman avoided €400m of Swiss taxes 'by calling himself Jesus'

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 13 Oct, 2022 Updated Thu 13 Oct 2022 15:51 CEST
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Entrepreneur in the beverage industry and head of Groupe Castel, Pierre Castel. Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP

Pierre Castel, co-founder of one of the world's largest wine traders, is appealing against an order to pay hundreds of millions in Swiss back-taxes, his lawyer said on Thursday.

A Swiss court issued the penalty saying the 95-year-old French billionaire behind the Castel Group global drinks empire - which owns the Nicolas chain of wine merchants - had fudged his tax returns.

The Geneva court ruling, issued on July 5th and seen by AFP this week, found that Castel had managed to conceal significant parts of his fortune. It ordered him to pay 410 million Swiss francs (€420 million) in back taxes.

Castel's lawyer Gregory Clerc told AFP on Thursday that an appeal had been filed with Switzerland's highest court.

Castel left France for Switzerland back in 1981, when leftist Francois Mitterrand won the presidency.

He slipped under the radar of the tax authorities as he registered under his given name Jesus instead of the widely recognisable Pierre, the Swiss investigative blog Gotham City reported.

While continuing to rake in profits from the group behind France's omnipresent Nicolas chain of wine stores, this move "allowed him to evade the attention of tax authorities for 30 years", the blog reported.

But his lawyer Clerc argued: "Mr Castel completed all the administrative formalities without exception by indicating his full name, including his birth names, as soon as he arrived in Switzerland.

"He never used a pseudonym or other identity."

Castel had called himself Pierre since he was "very, very young", to avoid the stigma of a Spanish name back when "it was frowned upon... to be the son of an immigrant".

The appeals court ruling said tax authorities had become suspicious after  discovering that Castel's declared fortune was far smaller than that attributed to him in the media.

Swiss magazine Bilan has listed him as the 11th-richest person in Switzerland; French business weekly Challenges said he had the 10th-largest fortune in France, valued at an estimated €13.5 billion.

The Geneva judgement highlighted the complex structure of Castel's fortune, split between holdings in Gibraltar, a foundation in Liechtenstein and a trust in Singapore.

Castel had argued this was to ensure the independence and durability of the group and to avoid conflicts within the family.

While acknowledging that he had "omitted to declare some revenue elements," his lawyers argued that this was in part due to his "old school" approach to business, which he conducted through oral agreements and handshakes.

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AFP 2022/10/13 15:51

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