A lawyer jailed over false charges of laundering money from the heirs of Belgian brewing giant AB InBev has been cleared of all charges in a court in Switzerland, it was announced on Wednesday.
The ruling ends an almost decade-long ordeal for Belgian lawyer Fara Chorfi which began after a disagreement over legal fees with the two adopted sons of Belgian Viscountess Amicie de Spoelberch, Patrice and Alexis. Chorfi had represented the adoptive sons to help them recover an inheritance of AB InBev shares worth millions of euros.
Chorfi’s lawyers hailed the judgement a victory, ending what they described as “judicial harassment.” Lawyer Grégoire Mangeat stated: “This total acquittal of the aggravated money-laundering charge is an end to a crushing campaign waged against our client with unprecedented relentlessness and malice for almost ten years."
According to Marc Uyttendaele, Chorfi’s lawyer in Belgium, the millionaire adoptive sons had leveraged “mind-blowing amounts of money and particularly dubious methods to pursue the lawyer who had loyally served their adoptive mother, and to whom they owe their fortune.”
While jailed in Switzerland, Chorfi suffered great emotional and physical damages, for which her lawyers now intend to seek restitution. Whilst Chorfi lost her freedom, livelihood, and professional reputation, Patrice and Alexis amassed investments and business interests thanks to the inheritance that she had secured for them. Notably, Patrice became one of the founders of Team BDS, a world-famous esports team.
The decision by the Geneva Court of Justice appeals chamber erases a 30-month prison sentence, of which Chorfi has already served half. The decision will also return 34 million Swiss francs (€34.4 million) taken from Chorfi in fines; her frozen bank accounts and assets will also be released and she will receive 5 million francs (€5.1 million) in procedural costs.
Accused by billionaires
The (Bailo de) Spoelberch family, one of the inheriting family branches of the InBev brewing fortune, had gone after Chorfi's Luxembourg law firm on several occasions. The first was in 2004, with the aim of organising a family holding and to demand control of nearly 9 million shares of InBev.
After the death of their parents, the adoptive sons again sought Chorfi's assistance because their mother had apparently disinherited them and distributed the family fortune across opaque structures managed by various law firms. In 2009, Chorfi’s firm managed to recover the two adoptive sons’ fortune, now worth over €3.5 billion.
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The brothers then contested Chorfi’s fee for this service, resulting in a disagreement that led them to pursue their own lawyer.
After two failed attempts to seek money-laundering charges in Luxembourg, the heirs’ lawyers convinced a Swiss prosecutor to get Chorfi thrown in jail in Greece in July 2017, then in Geneva for eight months without trial, then placed under house arrest in Geneva until December 2019.
The De Spoelberch family, one of the largest shareholders in AB InBev, was heavily implicated in the Panama Papers scandal. Both Alexis and Patrice were listed in the leaks, linking them to an offshore company in Panama. Both have denied any connection to the shell company.