Belgium/Switzerland: The battle for the legacy of a major AB InBev shareholder

More than 12 years after the death of Viscountess Amicie de Spoelberch, who was one of the biggest shareholders in AB InBev, Belgian tax authorities want to reclaim inheritance tax from her heirs.The tax liability has apparently not yet expired, as the heirs have kept a large part of the assets, including 815,000 bearer shares of the world's largest brewery group AB InBev, from the tax authorities.

Viscountess Amicie de Spoelberch was the granddaughter of Adolphe de Spoelberch, a descendent from a noble Belgium family who was the first member of that line to join the Artois Brewery, which became Interbrew and then AB Inbev.In February 2001, at the age of 79, Amicie married in Luxembourg Luka Bailo, a widow chaser and high roller from Serbian descendant who was 15 years younger than her.

Three years after the marriage, the childless viscountess adopted the two sons from her husband's first marriage, Alexis and Patrice Bailo. The idea was to save on inheritance tax, because both expected her to die before her husband because of her advanced age.

However, Luka Bailo fell ill with cancer and died on October 19, 2004. Amicie was disappointed to find that Patrice and Alexis hardly looked after their father during his illness. The relationship between the stepmother and her stepsons further deterioated when Amicie realized that the two adopted sons took over her financial affairs without informing her. Finally, she decided to disinherit them.

She filed a complaint for theft, fraud and breach of trust in Luxembourg which was continued by her lawyers even after her death in 2008. In 2010 an amicable settlement between the both parties was reached in Geneva. Alexis and Patrice Bailo received one year later a fortune of around EUR 589 million while the rest of the heritageremained in a foundation in Liechtenstein.

As this regulation was settled outside of Belgium and all parties involved promised strict secrecy about it, no inheritance tax was paid in Amicie’s home country.

The tax evasion only became known in February 2015 when a journalistic investigation, later known as Swiss Leaks, revealed that 88 million euros of the heritage of Luka Bailo were withheld by Farida Chorfi.

Chorfi was a lawyer who managed all the financial affairs of Amicie de Spoelberch and Luka Bailo including the financial and legal details of the their wedding, the rental of an apartment in Luxembourg, but also the creation of a patrimonial company, supposed to house the assets of the couple.

Appartently Amicie was not too much involved in her financial affairs as she received every year more than EUR 1 million in dividends from 8 million AB InBev bearer papers with a value of EUR 200 million, without really knowing where the money came from.

Chorfi abused the trust placed in her and founded three companies in Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands, to which parts of the assets were transferred.

After the death of their father in 2004 Alexis and Patrice Bailo detected the lawyer’s fraud and accused her of removing 815,000 AB InBev bearer shares from a Luxembourg safe deposit box and transferring them to a private bank in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2017 Chorfi was arrested on a sailboat in Greece and agreed to extradition to Switzerland.

Before, a court in Geneva had sentenced her to return the found 327,000 AB Inbev shares to the two brothers and pay them EUR 34 million, which was the value of the 488,000 missing stocks. Around 30 million euros that were confiscated were transferred to the treasury in Geneva.

In addition Chorfi was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in Switzerland, with 15 months of the sentence suspended. In 2019, after 10 months in jail, she was released but sent to Luxemburg where another prison sentence waited for her, this time for 2 years, with 15 months of the sentence suspended. (, 9.12.2019)

It remains to be seen whether the Belgium financial administration has a chance to collect some of the legacy of the wealthy couple. Patrice and Alexis Bailo have an army of lawyers ready to defend their interests, and so do the rest of the inheritance stewards who believe that the Belgium tax authorities have no foothold.

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