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French right-wing power broker jailed in fraud trial

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A French court on Friday jailed for four years a right-wing power broker who for decades along with his wife dominated politics in a wealthy suburb of Paris on charges of hiding millions of euros worth of assets from the tax authorities.

The Paris tribunal convicted Patrick Balkany and ordered his immediate arrest. His wife Isabelle Balkany was given a three-year jail term but not immediately placed under arrest, as is often the case in France for short sentences.

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In dramatic courtroom scenes, police arrested Balkany, 71, to begin serving his term as the verdict was being read out and his wife looked on, an AFP correspondent said. The pair were also banned from holding office for 10 years.

The trial had captivated France where it was seen as a test of the ability of the courts to hold well-connected and long-established power players to account.

The Balkanys, who are friends of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, also face a second verdict in October on separate charges of money-laundering and corruption.

Patrick Balkany’s lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti slammed the order to place his client under arrest as a “totally useless humiliation” and vowed to appeal the verdict.

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Patrick and Isabelle Balkany had been under investigation since 2013 when a former political ally told judges he had deposited millions of euros in a Swiss bank account controlled by Patrick Balkany.

The pair were charged with hiding two luxury villas and other assets from the tax authorities and evading some 4 million euros ($4.4 million) in tax.

It was the latest in a string of probes into the couple’s finances over the years since Patrick Balkany first became mayor of Levallois-Perret, west of Paris, in the early 1980s.

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The Balkanys are veteran power players in right-wing politics, close in particular to Sarkozy, whose birthday parties at chic Paris restaurants they have attended.

Patrick Balkany has repeatedly been re-elected Levallois’s mayor after his first victory in 1983, with Isabelle as his deputy.

Both have been convicted previously of conflicts of interest, and both were handed suspended prison sentences in 1996 for the personal use of municipal employees, including one who was employed as their private chauffeur.

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