Franco-Israeli sentenced to 9 years in prison, fined for vast tax fraud scam

Stéphane Alzraa, who was extradited from Israel, convicted of organized fraud and aggravated money laundering for involvement in $57 million ‘scam of the century’

Illustrative image of a person being arrested. (BrianAJackson via iStock by Getty images)
Illustrative image of a person being arrested. (BrianAJackson via iStock by Getty images)

French-Israeli dual national Stéphane Alzraa was sentenced Friday in France to nine years in prison for his involvement in a vast tax fraud known as the “scam of the century.”

He was sentenced on charges of organized fraud and aggravated money laundering and fined 100,000 euros (approximately $112,000).

The Lyon court granted to the state 50 million euros (approximately $56 million) in damages, plus a symbolic single Euro for damage to the country’s image.

Alzraa, 38, was acquitted of criminal conspiracy charges, as were three other defendants in the case.

He had been extradited from Israel following a request by French authorities.

According to French authorities, between 2008 and 2009 Alzraa and his accomplice, Michael Aknin, 39, ran several companies with the intention of carrying out large-scale tax fraud, concealing some 51 million euros (approximately $57 million) from French tax authorities.

The money was then allegedly transferred to bank accounts in East Asia.

Alzraa left France in 2015, skipping the country while on a prison furlough after he was sentenced to 30 months in June 2014 for abuse of property.

He was arrested in November 2016 under the name of David Blomberg during a routine traffic check in Tel Aviv and extradited to France, where he was imprisoned in April 2018.

Aknin remains in Israel, where he is fighting extradition. He is also wanted by French authorities for allegedly defrauding a communications company and deceiving its customers. He is suspected of artificially inflating sales reports to increase the commissions he received and then laundering the money he obtained, causing the company to collapse, the extradition statement said.

In 2008 and 2009, multiple groups of fraudsters took advantage of differing tax rules in different EU countries to buy and sell carbon credits, or permission to emit carbon dioxide, on exchanges in Europe. The scammers would buy the credits in a country with no value-added tax, and quickly sell them in France or other countries that did charge VAT.

Generally, merchants have 90 days to remit the VAT they collect to the French government. The perpetrators took advantage of this time window to divert the money offshore and transfer it through a series of shell companies until it effectively vanished. The French government has estimated it lost 1.6 billion euros in unpaid VAT taxes this way and the total loss to all European countries is estimated at 5 billion-10 billion euros.

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