A French power couple who dominated politics in a wealthy suburb of Paris for decades were given jail terms Friday for money laundering, sealing their fall from grace after earlier convictions for tax fraud.
Patrick Balkany, the longtime mayor of Levallois-Perret and a veteran player in right-wing politics, had already been jailed last month for hiding millions of euros’ worth of assets from the tax authorities.
His wife, deputy mayor Isabelle Balkany, had also been convicted of tax fraud but was not taken into custody, after a recent suicide attempt. The pair, who are close friends of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, has appealed those convictions.
But on Friday, a Paris judge sentenced Patrick Balkany to another five years in prison for laundering the proceeds of the tax fraud.
The cigarette-chomping 71-year-old, who is already serving a four-year sentence, was however cleared of a more serious charge of corruption. He refused to leave his Paris prison cell for the hearing.
His wife, who is also aged 71 and who took over as interim Levallois mayor following his incarceration, received a four-year sentence Friday for money laundering but again was not taken into custody.
The pair were again banned from holding elected office for 10 years, dealing a possible death blow to their long and storied careers. They planned to appeal the latest sentences as well, lawyers said.
The court cleared Patrick Balkany of corruption, ruling that investigators had failed to prove that he received a Moroccan villa from a Saudi millionaire in return for favourable treatment in a property deal.
Popular with voters
The trial has been heralded by many as proof of the ability of French courts to hold the powerful to account. But despite the whiff of scandal engulfing the Balkanys, many voters in Levallois reacted with dismay to their mayor’s incarceration, crediting him with upscaling the suburb. He was first elected mayor in 1983.
Patrick Balkany also represented the Hauts-de-Seine region, where Levallois is located, in the National Assembly for many years.
He and his wife were found guilty of using offshore accounts to hide at least 13 million euros ($14 million) in assets from tax authorities between 2007 and 2014, including luxury villas in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh and in the West Indies.
The couple always argued that their wealth was mainly inherited — Isabelle’s Tunisian Jewish father made a fortune in rubber production, while Patrick’s father, an Auschwitz survivor, founded a luxury clothing chain in postwar Paris.
“It’s not my fault if I was raised in a 3,000 square-metre townhouse in the 16th (arrondissement of Paris) and went to school in a Rolls!” Isabelle told Le Journal du Dimanche weekly in 2015.
But the court ruled last month that the offences of which the pair were convicted had “aggravated the longstanding erosion of trust in Republican values.”
The Balkanys have had previous brushes with the law. Both were handed suspended prison sentences in 1996 for the personal use of municipal employees, including one who was employed as their private chauffeur.
They are among several prominent politicians, many of them conservatives, to be charged with financial misconduct in recent years. Sarkozy has been ordered to stand trial in two different affairs, one for illegal campaign funding and another for corruption, and is still under investigation in two other cases.
Former conservative prime ministers Francois Fillon crashed out of the running for the presidency in 2017 after being charged with using public funds to pay his wife for a fake job as his assistant.
Fillon and his wife are set to go on trial in February.