A rightwing power couple who have run a rich Paris suburb for almost 40 years and who are close friends of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy have been given prison sentences for money laundering.
Patrick Balkany, the mayor of Levallois-Perret, and his wife, Isabelle, were convicted of hiding at least €13m from tax authorities via a complex network of offshore companies between 2007 and 2014.
It is the latest in a long catalogue of legal problems for the Balkanys, who in 1996 were given suspended prison sentences for using town hall staff to do their housework, including one employed as a private chauffeur.
Patrick Balkany was first elected mayor in 1983. Whenever he has been barred from public office, his wife, the deputy mayor, has taken over running the town.
The couple, who have a luxury home in the East Indies and a magnificent residence at Giverny not far from Monet’s celebrated home, were convicted of tax fraud last year and the conviction was upheld on appeal in March. A judge said they had “aggravated the longstanding erosion of trust in Republican values”.
The bombastic, cigar-chomping mayor admitted some of the charges against him and was cleared of corruption after the court ruled that investigators had failed to prove he received a villa in Marrakesh from a Saudi millionaire in return for a property deal.
Balkany, 71, spent five months in prison and was released in February due to ill health. His wife, 72, was spared jail on the grounds of her fragile health after attempting suicide a year ago.
In a separate trial they were found guilty of “aggravated money laundering” last October. They appealed against the verdict hoping for a more lenient sentence, but instead the appeal court was more severe, giving him a five-year jail term and his wife four years.
The latest case took four years to investigate and spread to Switzerland, Panama, Liechtenstein, the Seychelles, Morocco, Egypt and the Dominican Republic as detectives followed a trail of offshore and front companies.
The couple have been investigated on several occasions and they have previous convictions for conflicts of interest. Questioned about their finances, they argued that their wealth was mostly inherited: Isabelle Balkany’s Tunisian father made his fortune producing rubber; Patrick Balkany’s father – like Sarkozy’s father, a Hungarian Jewish emigré – survived deportation to Auschwitz and founded a luxury prêt a porter 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] and went to school in a Rolls,” Isabelle told Le Journal du Dimanche in 2015.
Despite the decades of scandal, Levallois-Perret residents kept voting for them. Patrick Balkany also represented the Hauts-de-Seine region, which includes Levallois, as an MP for many years.
In the latest judgments, the couple were banned from holding elected office for 10 years.
They were ordered to pay €100,000 each, and the judge ordered that property including the Moroccan villa be confiscated.
They are unlikely to find themselves in prison cells any time soon. Their lawyer described the sentence as “excessive” and said they were considering a further appeal and would seek an “accommodation” of the sentences based on their age and ill health.