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Gérard Limat, the accountant for French billionaire industrialist and politician Serge Dassault, claims he delivered 53 million euros ($66 million) in cash to his boss between 1995 and 2012.Limat's claim was published by French daily Libération and radio station France Inter, which accessed the transcript from Limat's hearing with the Central Office Against Corruption in Nanterre, France, in late October.
The accountant is under investigation for his alleged role in illegal campaign financing, vote-buying, and money laundering schemes — all linked back to Dassault's stint as mayor of the Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes from 1995 to 2009. Limat allegedly gave away 4.2 million euros to various residents of Corbeil-Essonnes during these years.The son of French industrialist Marcel Dassault, Serge Dassault, 89, is the CEO of Dassault Aviation, the French aircraft manufacturer that makes the Mirage fighter jet. He also has a major stake in French media group Socpresse, which owns Le Figaro, the second-largest daily newspaper in France. The Dassault family currently ranks 69th on the Forbes list of the world's billionaires.VICE News was unable to reach Serge Dassault for comment.According to Limat, the money he smuggled came from banks in Switzerland and Luxembourg, and the cash deliveries were facilitated by Swiss asset management company Cofinor. Limat would transfer the sum from his own account into the Swiss account of Cofinor, which would then make the cash available in France.'The situation is becoming untenable': Leaked documents highlight tax avoidance controversy in Luxembourg. Read more here.A Cofinor representative would reportedly meet Limat near the Champs-Elysées and hand over plastic bags containing bundles of 100 euro bills wrapped in newspaper. The bags contained between 100,000 and 700,000 euros, depending on how much cash Cofinor was able to deliver that day. Limat then dropped the bags off in Dassault's office, which overlooks the Champs-Elysées roundabout.
The current investigation is trying to determine whether the money was used to buy votes during three elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009, and 2010.According to Libération, the Edmond de Rothschild private banking group refused in 2010 to transfer funds from Limat's account to the account of a Corbeil-Essonnes resident. Dassault was eventually stripped of his mayorship of Corbeil-Essonnes in 2009 for making cash gifts to voters.
Limat claims that the cash gifts to the residents of Corbeil ended then, but that deliveries to Dassault continued into March 2012.Éric Vernier, a finance professor and researcher at the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, told VICE News that delivering large sums of cash is a fairly straightforward operation. "Having suitcases of cash delivered to you is not a problem," he said, provided the client has the necessary available funds on hidden accounts. "Once your money has been transferred to a foreign account, you're set.""There are different ways to access cash from offshore accounts," Mathieu Delahousse, a journalist who has written extensively on the subject of money laundering, told VICE News. According to Delahousse, money-runners in large-scale cash smuggling operations often look like "the guy next door"."They don't travel business class," Delahousse said. "And they're usually carrying a small shoulder bag." He said that, "two million euros in 500 euro bills can easily fit in a family size cereal box."
'Having suitcases of cash delivered to you is not a problem.'
Libération reports that Cofinor stopped delivering cash to its client in 2012. The company's other high-profile clients include Liliane Bettencourt, the French L'Oréal heiress who was listed by Hurun Report as the wealthiest woman in the world in 2014. Libération also reports that the deliveries were "arranged by verbal agreement," and that there is no written trace of the remittance.Delahousse explained that companies like Cofinor transfer what is known as "scriptural money" — nonphysical funds held in deposit accounts — to accounts in France. The money is then withdrawn in cash and delivered to their client by trusted runners in exchange for a commission. That way, no cash ever crosses the border.According to Vernier, the European Union is encouraging banks to crack down on tax fraud and money laundering, but with limited success. "Countries such as Luxembourg are meant to follow European guidelines against tax fraud, but there is a big gap between what is being said and what is being done. Other countries, such as Switzerland, are not EU members, which limits [the EU's] leverage."Follow Virgile Dall'Armellina on Twitter: @armellinaPhoto via Flickr