Briton found with £163,000 cash in van to appeal French jail sentence

The 76-year-old was preparing to take a ferry to the UK and claims he was unaware of the contents of the packages that sniffer dogs discovered

A gavel resting on a legal book in a French court.
A full appeal will be head on June 3
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A 76-year old British man is attempting to appeal a two-year prison sentence given out after French police found £163,000 in cash in his van as he tried to cross by ferry back to the UK.

The unnamed man is appealing the money-laundering charge he was found guilty of last year, which includes a 16-month suspended prison sentence, at a court in Caen (Calvados) with the help of a translator.

Read more: Do Britons have a right to a translator in a French court?

In 2019, the man was driving a small van carrying furniture and packages with unknown contents to Spain from the UK, a journey he claimed to have made around 30 times before, according to Ouest France.

He said he was paid between £2,000 and £4,000 for each journey and that the money helped top up his £300-per-month pension back in the UK.

He said that on this particular trip, he discovered by chance that he was also transporting money when a plastic bag filled with notes fell out in the van after he hit his steering wheel in frustration at something.

He said he was ‘furious’ and turned back to the UK to confront the woman who had asked him to make the delivery (she was based in Wales) when he was stopped as he prepared to take a ferry in Ouistreham (Calvados) by French customs officials.

They discovered a further seven plastic bags stuffed with banknotes hidden in the van’s doors after a dog smelt traces of cannabis and cocaine on the bags.

Read more: €600,000 in gold found in UK car stopped at France-Swiss border

There is a €10,000 limit on transporting cash across French borders. Any amount higher than this must be declared to customs before you travel.

Court president does not believe the man’s claims

The man claimed his son was a police officer in Wales and that as well as going to confront the woman he was returning to ask his advice, knowing it was illegal to carry so much money on him. 

The judge, however, questioned his claim that he was an unknowing ‘mule’ unaware of the contents inside the packages.

“If he is not guilty of anything, he should have handed the money over to the authorities,” said president of the court Loïc Binauld who called the man’s story ‘abracadabra-esque’. 

“It would be more plausible if you said you had been subjected to a lot of pressure or violence [and were coerced into carrying the packages],” he told the man. 

The man’s lawyer believes the charges should be reduced and that instead of being charged with money laundering he should only be found guilty of failing to declare the money at customs.

“There is not enough evidence to link him [to money laundering],” he said.

A full appeal will be heard on June 3, 2024. Both the local public prosecutor and a legal representative of French customs believe the original sentence should be upheld.

The representative said the French legal code states that “the holder of fraudulent goods [is] responsible for the fraud” regardless of their reasons for transporting it.