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Money laundering – Major clarifications of the French Court of Cassation on the offence of money laundering

Apr 28, 2020

In six rulings handed down on 11 September 2019, the Court of Cassation answered questions of principle regarding tax fraud and money laundering.

On the nature of the offence of money laundering, the Court of Cassation states that it is an instantaneous offence, which is carried out in a fraction of time. Also, the Court rebuts the trial judges who have ruled that “the offence of money laundering is a continuous offence, which continues after the opening of accounts and the deposit on them of sums concealed from the tax authorities, regardless of their subsequent use or lack of use”, recalling that the holding of an undeclared bank account abroad cannot in itself characterise the offence of money laundering.

However, money laundering is a concealed offence by nature when its purpose is to conceal the beneficiary or the illicit nature of the assets or funds to which it relates, which has the consequence of shifting the starting point of the limitation period to the day on which the offence arose under conditions allowing for the exercise of public prosecution.

The Criminal Chamber also provides an important clarification with regard to the basis of assessment of the proportional fine imposed for tax fraud laundering by specifying that the fine must be calculated on the basis of the amount of tax evaded and not on the basis of the amount of taxable sums concealed.

The courts are now required to apply these major rulings in the context of the suppression of the offence of money laundering.

Cass. crim. 11 Sept. 2019, No. 18-81.040 and No. 18-83.484

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