PARIS—Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, 82, and Jacques Tajan, 64, formerly one of France’s top auctioneers, went on trial in December for charges stemming from a 1994 auction of artworks by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
Tajan is charged with keeping about $1.5 million from the $7.8 million sale in the account of his auction house, Étude Tajan, as well as keeping the interest accrued during the next five years. Dumas is charged with receiving €370,000 (about $500,000) as a bribe from Tajan.
Both Dumas and Tajan have claimed that the €370,000 was for legal fees. But when asked by investigators for evidence of that legal work, Tajan never produced the art-market and legal analysis that Dumas had supposedly prepared for him.
Decisions are scheduled to be handed down on Feb. 25. Tajan could face up to 30 months in prison with fines as high as €30,000 while Dumas could receive 12 months and be fined as much as €15,000.
Dumas, an attorney and close friend to late French president François Mitterand, was named executor of the estate of the artist’s widow, Annette Giacometti, another close friend, after her death in 1993. Dumas asked Tajan to inventory the works and then, with Tajan, organized the estate sale, which took place in June 1994.
Tajan is accused of defrauding the estate by keeping in his bank accounts, for more than five years, a healthy part of the proceeds from the auction. He is accused of storing the money in those accounts in order to cover up the financial problems of his auction house at the time.
Tajan founded Étude Tajan in August 1994, then sold it to luxury goods company LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) in 2000 but continued to run operations. Financier Rodica Seward, who was born in Romania but schooled in the U.S., bought the auction house in late 2003. Seward has worked for companies including Covad Communications, Lucent Technologies, Wasserstein Perella, Coopers & Lybrand and Morgan Stanley.
After Seward acquired the auction house, Tajan remained at the helm, retiring himself this past September, stating that he was making room for his son François.
Dumas—who last year was acquitted, on appeal, of taking bribes from oil group Elf Aquitane when he was foreign minister—maintains he was unaware that Tajan had kept the money in the bank for so long, since he (Dumas) was named a few months later to another position.
Tajan has failed to clearly describe his reasons for keeping the money. At the trial, he stated, “No one claimed the money.”
Neither Dumas, Tajan nor their attorneys could be reached for commen