Record French Fine Slashed as Latvian Bank Wins Tax Appeal

Latvian lender Rietumu Banka won a 75% reduction in what was once France’s highest criminal fine for a company.

Rietumu, which had allegedly helped clients of a company-registration and advisory firm dodge taxes, will still have to pay 20 million euros ($23.6 million), down from the 80 million-euro penalty handed down four years ago.

Rietumu’s conviction in 2017 was the first sign that French fines were being ramped up as part of a crackdown on white-collar crimes following the creation of an elite prosecution unit, the Parquet National Financier.

The penalty was eclipsed just a year and a half later when the PNF secured a 3.7 billion-euro fine in court against UBS Group AG. The Swiss bank, accused of soliciting clients illegally and laundering the proceeds of tax evasion, has appealed and awaits a September ruling from the same panel of judges as in the Rietumu case.

Rietumu was also barred from operating in France for five years by the Paris court of appeals, confirming the 2017 ruling on that point.

Judges didn’t detail on Tuesday their reasoning for cutting the fine. Presiding Judge Francois Reygrobellet said the written ruling will be sent to the parties later.

The bank said in a statement that it’s “convinced of its innocence” and is considering a further appeal once it has fully reviewed Tuesday’s ruling.

The French probe coupled with money-laundering accusations from the U.S. Treasury against another Latvian lender in 2018 sparked a sector wide crackdown on shell companies and illicit finance. Since 2017, assets at Rietumu have fallen by 51%. The Latvian bank has provisioned 34 million euros for the French case.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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