Belgian lawyer guilty in 'Catch Me if You Can' Swiss money-laundering case
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – A Swiss court convicted a Belgian lawyer on Monday of money-laundering and forgery for taking shares now worth more than 60 million Swiss francs ($60 million) from Belgium’s richest family and stashing them in accounts and offshore companies.
The unidentified defendant, who denied the charges, was sentenced to 30 months, half of it suspended, minus time served in preventive detention, which means that she will not be jailed in Switzerland. The Geneva prosecutor had sought four years at her trial last week.
The three-judge tribunal also ordered confiscation of tens of millions found in accounts.
“It was almost a perfect crime. But when you put together a financial scheme, you have to remember what you have already done. You end up making big mistakes,” plaintiff lawyer Vincent Jeanneret said in the pleadings.
Court papers showed hasty transfers to Singapore, Dubai and Monaco, Jeanneret said, describing a “Catch Me If You Can” scenario in an allusion to the Hollywood heist film.
The 57-year-old defendant, who is not being named in line with Swiss practice for defendants not in the public eye, was previously convicted in 2016 in Luxembourg of attempted fraud involving the 2005 testament of the Anheuser Busch InBev heiress Amicie de Spoelberch, widow of Luka Bailo. She was sentenced to 24 months, with 15 months suspended.
Prosecutor Niki Casanato said on Monday that the Swiss federal justice office had received a request from Luxembourg for her extradition to serve the remaining time.
Some 915,000 bearer shares in the world’s largest brewer were removed from a Luxembourg safe deposit box in 2004 when Bailo died. His sons Patrice and Alexis brought the case against the defendant, leading to her re-arrest in 2017.
“We are satisfied with the ruling … which demolishes the lies proffered for many years,” Pierre de Preux, lead lawyer for the Bailo brothers, told Reuters.
Swiss banks became suspicious in 2008 when a whistleblower leaked details of thousands of clients of HSBC private bank, including the lawyer’s account with $40 million.
“Three banks made declarations about possible money-laundering – Mirabaud, HSBC, and Rothschild. That set off the investigation,” Dominique LeCoq, a Bailo lawyer, told the court. It took years to trace funds as the brothers were “addicts” who kept no records, although Patrice was now “clean”, he said.
($1 = 0.9972 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)