Helvet Immo case: the prosecution castigates on appeal the “deception” of the BNP Paribas subsidiary

The public prosecutor’s office on Tuesday demanded the maximum fine of 187,500 euros against a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, for having “hidden” the risks of its Helvet Immo loan from consumers (AFP / Archives / ERIC PIERMONT)

“It was not them who were wrong, it was the bank who deceived them”: the general prosecutor’s office demanded on Tuesday the maximum fine of 187,500 euros against a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, for having “hidden” the risks of its Helvet Immo loan to consumers.

BNP Paribas Personal Finance has been retried since May 15 before the Paris Court of Appeal: in question, the marketing in 2008 and 2009 of this loan in Swiss francs but repayable in euros. More than 4,600 customers have subscribed to it, for a total of 770 million euros.

“We hid a number of risks from the borrower to push him to take out this loan,” said Advocate General Yves Micolet, speaking of “misleading omissions” and asking for the condemnation of the subsidiary, known in France via the Cetelem brand, for misleading commercial practice and concealment.

Regretting the “weakness” of the sentence incurred, the representative of the public prosecutor’s office requested that the conviction be published “on the front page” of the main newspapers.

“The situation is shocking, you have more than 2,500 people whose lives have been wasted and a bank which has grown rich on the backs of its customers,” he said in conclusion, drawing applause from a room. hearing attended by a hundred borrowers.

Sentenced at first instance on February 26, 2020 to this fine of 187,500 euros and to pay more than 100 million euros in damages, BNP Paribas Personal Finance, which contests any fraudulent practice and affirms that the fall of the euro was ” totally unpredictable,” appealed.

His defense must plead in the afternoon.

Helvet Immo, intended for tax-exempt rental investment, has become toxic in the wake of the financial crisis: the euro has depreciated sharply against the Swiss currency, which has led to a surge in the amounts to be reimbursed.

Thus, a couple who had borrowed 143,000 euros and already paid 57,000 euros over 83 monthly payments, still had to repay 190,600 euros, “a 32% increase” in the capital remaining due, cited the representative of the public prosecutor’s office as an example.

– “Wobbly product” –

Borrowers “were taking their first steps in finance and in tax exemption”, underlined the magistrate, rejecting the idea of ​​a more “wise” investor than an average consumer.

“It was not they who were wrong but it was the bank who deceived them,” he said, mocking the “leak forward” of the company, whose “arguments have not their place before a court of appeal as they are not very serious”.

During the first trial, at the end of 2019, the prosecution took an unusual position of neutrality.

This time, she unambiguously requested the conviction, stressing the importance of several decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which took place between the two trials, in the civil part of this case.

“It is the practical embodiment of what Europe can bring to consumers in terms of protection,” said the Advocate General.

He argued that the bank had, in the loan offer and in the commercial arguments provided to the intermediaries, “voluntarily concealed” the exchange risk and the total removal of the ceiling on monthly payments at the end of the contract, if the capital due does not was not reimbursed.

Noting that, in the bank’s documents, the “stability of the Swiss franc” was put forward, but that the words “exchange risk” were never mentioned, he insisted on a sentence: “in all circumstances, your budget is secure”.

“You have to sell a very difficult, wobbly product, which has only one real advantage, which is a very low interest rate. And to be able to market this contract, you have to market it to as many people as possible. and for this to hide all the risks it entails”, lambasted the magistrate.

For him, the bank made a “bet on the backs of consumers”, because the sale of this product represented a “commercial stake” decisive for its financial health.

The court’s decision will be reserved for several weeks.

© 2023 AFP

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