Court rules mayor convicted for tax fraud, money laundering too ill to stay in jail

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Agence France-Presse

The mayor of a wealthy Paris suburb jailed for tax fraud and money laundering had his sentence converted to house arrest Wednesday by an appeals court on health grounds.

Patrick Balkany, 71, had been in jail since September 13 last year, after he and his wife Isabelle were found guilty of fraud for hiding millions of euros’ worth of assets from the taxman.

He was sentenced to four years in jail, and his wife to three years, although her incarceration was not carried out in light of a recent suicide attempt.

The sentence banned both of them from holding public office for a decade.

When in October the power couple was convicted of money laundering in a second trial, observers heralded the rulings as proof that French courts can hold the powerful to account.

The mayor was convicted to five years’ imprisonment and his wife to four.

They are appealing their convictions and sentences in both cases, with rulings scheduled for March 4 and April 22.

Pending the outcome of these appeals, Balkany retains his mayoral title even in prison and his wife, who is deputy mayor, is acting on his behalf.

The Balkanys have dominated politics in Levallois-Perret, just north of Paris, for decades. They are close friends of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, himself in the crosshairs of French prosecutors in a number of graft cases.

Based on expert medical testimony, the Paris appeals court Wednesday judged Balkany’s health to be “hardly compatible with detention” and freed him under judicial supervision, with no requirement to pay bail.

A medical report had described a “deterioration” of the mayor’s general state of health and a “marked state of depression” that it said was “not compatible with ordinary detention”.

According to his doctors, Balkany suffers from digestive problems, and his family says he has lost 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) in five months.

“My happiness cannot be described,” Isabelle Balkany told journalists outside the prison shortly before her husband was released.

Judges had rejected several previous legal bids for his release by Balkany, except for one that granted him bail of 500,000 euros ($545,000) — an amount he was unable to pay.

Under Wednesday’s ruling, he will be allowed to serve out his time at his home in Normandy in northeast France.

He is not allowed to leave France, and must report to the police twice a month.

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