Karel De Gucht, a former foreign minister and European trade Commissioner, has refused a deal with the tax authorities over alleged tax evasion, and now faces the possibility of criminal charges. De Gucht is suspected along with his wife, Mireille Schreurs. De Gucht, it emerged in 2011, had been under investigation by the special investigations unit of the tax authorities regarding a villa in Tuscany for which De Gucht’s tax records showed no sign of purchase. When in 2011 it was revealed that the unit had an open dossier on De Gucht and his wife, his lawyers argued that the villa was not their property but was owned by an Italian company.
Early in the case, the De Guchts were offered an amicable settlement, by which they would pay back tax and penalties in exchange for avoiding prosecution. They were also warned that the unit would extend its field of investigation from the usual three years to seven years, because it had found evidence of possible fraud.
The defence refused the offer of a settlement, confident that they would be successful in any trial. Importantly, the acceptance of a settlement amounts to an admission of guilt. At the time, De Gucht was a member of the second Barroso commission, while his wife was a police court magistrate; both might have been constrained to resign in disgrace if they admitted tax evasion.
Later, when it was allowed access to bank records, the tax unit found De Gucht had made a profit of €1.2 million on a shares deal in Italy, for which the tax authorities were claiming no less than €976,000.
Following a decision by the court of appeal striking down the extension of the field of investigation to seven years, a judgement itself overturned by the Cassation Court, the tax inspectors re-opened their offer to De Gucht and Schreurs of a settlement. The pair have again refused, apparently willing to take their chances in court. No date has been set for further proceedings.