PARIS — A Brussels court has confirmed the end of its inquiry into Bernard Arnault for “potentially falsely claiming Belgian residence” after the luxury titan agreed to pay an undisclosed “transaction” to end proceedings, without admitting guilt in the case, which has been ongoing since 2012.
The royal prosecutor’s department opened a probe in 2012 after Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, applied for Belgian citizenship.
Arnault subsequently withdrew his application after a wave of criticism suggesting he was seeking to escape France’s high taxes. At the time, the businessman claimed he was seeking to protect his Belgian interests and LVMH’s in the case of his death.
“At the end of its inquiry, estimating that given the facts in question, if they were established, could result in a criminal settlement, […]the public prosecutor suggested to Mr. Arnault to put an end to the prosecution case with the agreement of such a transaction, without any recognition of guilt on his part,” a spokesman for the court said.
“While continuing to reiterate his objections [to the claims], Mr. Arnault accepted this proposition in June 2017,” he added.
The court refused to reveal the amount of the transaction, but the maximum fine for a false citizenship claim in Belgium is 3 million euros. A source with knowledge of the case said the sum was in fact in the tens of thousands of euros.
A spokesman for LVMH declined to comment on the ruling.
In 2012, France’s richest man became the poster boy for a heated polemic in France over then president François Hollande’s plan to impose a 75 percent tax rate on incomes of more than 1 million euros.
Left-leaning French daily Libération ran a photo of Arnault on its cover under the headline “Casse-toi riche con!” — whose most polite translation is “Get Lost Rich Idiot!”
Arnault launched a lawsuit, but ultimately resumed normal relations with the paper.