Loto debt couple must pay up

France’s top appeal court has turned down a couple who tried to use an old law to get out of paying a €1.4million debt

18 December 2014
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A COUPLE who tried to use a legal loophole dating back to 1804 to get out of paying back a €1.4million debt have been refused by France’s top appeal court.

The pair had become overdrawn with finance firm Sofinco (a subsidiary of Crédit Agricole) by taking part in lottery games – and losing it all. In all, there were 397 cheques debited from their account by state lottery body Française des Jeux.

When the bank asked them to repay the money, the couple cited a loophole under article 1965 of the Code Civil – a law dating to 1804, which says you cannot go to court to oblige payment of a gambling debt (ie. money borrowed to gamble with) or a bet. Technically, under French law, these are debts of ‘honour’, not legally enforceable.

However, the couple were told to pay up by the lower courts and the Cour de Cassation has now also rejected the couple’s argument, saying the bank did not know they would use the money for gambling – so the loan was not a “gambling debt”.

A 2011 case went the opposite way. It featured a man who was loaned money by another person that, with interest, amounted to €1.7million. The Cour de Cassation told him he was not obliged to repay the money because the lender knew he was a habitual gambler.

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