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12 jailed for huge French carbon-trading fraud
A Paris court jailed 12 people for terms of up to nine years on Wednesday for their part in a gigantic carbon tax credit fraud that cost the French state 146 million euros. Another 36 people are to face trial in a related case in a series of scams worth an estimated 1.6 billion euros in total.
Millions of euros were swindled between 2006 and 2009 through a scam on the carbon quota market carried out largely by French-Israeli citizens in what has been dubbed the "fraud of the century".
In an attempt to find a free-market solution to climate change, the European Union introduced carbon credits, which established quotas for carbon emissions and allowed companies that do not reach them to sell their credits to companies who have exceeded theirs.
France's finance ministry slapped sales tax on the credits, which was not the case in other countries.
That allowed the fraudsters to buy credits abroad through dummy companies, sell them in France with VAT added but never paying the VAT to the French government.
The illicit profits were laundered through complex webs of more dummy companies and bank accounts in tax havens.
The scam took some time to come to light and Wednesday's sentences follow eight-year jail terms handed down to Marco Mouly and Arnaud Mimran in June.
The heaviest sentence - nine years in prison and a million-euro fine - went to Cyril Astruc, described as the "instigator and primary beneficiary".
Most defendants not in court
But he and nine of the other defendants were not present in court and an arrest warrants have been issued for them.
Richard Touil, who is also on the run, was sentenced to eight years and a million-euro fine for being "one of the organisers and beneficiaries", while Kévin El Ghasouani and Grégory Zaoui, who were found responsible for much of the mechanics of the operation, were sentenced to seven years and a million-euro fine and six years and a million-euro fine respectively.
Another participant, Eddie Abittan, also received a six-year sentence and a million-euro fine.
Seven other defendants, most of them nominal heads of companies set up for the scam, were given sentences ranging from one to four years in prison, along with million-euro fines.
All those found guilty were ordered to collectively pay 146 million euros in damages and interest to the government.
Three defendants were found not guilty.
Turkish bank Garanti Bankasi was fined eight million euros for its role in laundering the proceeds.
New trial over bigger fraud
A further 36 people are to face trial in an even bigger carbon tax fraud case.
Judges believe the Marseille-based gang pocketed 385 million euros in unpaid VAT.
The alleged leader was former teacher Christiane Melgrani, who is in prison awaiting trial, as is her alleged lieutenant Gérard Chétrit, while a warrant has been issued for another key defendant, Eric Castiel.
Lawyer Arié Goueta is also believed to have played a key role in the swindle and Grégory Zaoui, who was sentenced in Wednesday's judgement, is also named in the forthcoming case.
The French government scrapped VAT on carbon credits in June 2009.