A BANK partly owned and run by Celtic’s biggest shareholder Dermot Desmond has been hit with a record French fine for facilitating industrial-scale tax evasion.

A court in Paris told Latvian-based Rietumu Banka to pay the equivalent of its annual profits – about £70 million – for its part in a vast scheme to help businesses and individuals defraud the state of up to 10 times as much revenue.

The French court declared that at least €200m of unpaid tax had been laundered through the bank. Prosecutors had said the figure could be up to €850m.

David Leask analysis: Watchdogs have grown teeth to crack down on money-laundering

Mr Desmond has owned just under a third of Rietumu Banku for more than a decade and sat on the institution’s management board throughout the period under scrutiny from French authorities, from 2007 to 2012.

Prosecutors convinced the court the bank was an “indispensable link” in what they called a vast scheme to criminally evade tax led by a financier called Nadav Bensoussan, and his company, France Offshore.

Judge Benedicte de Perthuis, whose court specialises in high-value tax crime crime, said Rietumu could not ignore the fraudulent nature of the funds.

She said: “It was part of its business strategy in France.”

The Herald contacted the office of Mr Desmond, an Irish-born tax exile, seeking a comment on yesterday’s conviction of Rietumu. There was no response. Mr Desmond was not named in court proceedings. There has been no suggestion the billionaire, as a shareholder or board member, had any knowledge or involvement in any wrongdoing.

David Leask analysis: Watchdogs have grown teeth to crack down on money-laundering

However, one of his fellow board members at the bank, its president, Alexander Pankov, was given a four-year suspended prison sentence.

The organiser of the scheme, Bensoussan, who had boasted he could provide a “tax haven for all”, was jailed for two years with a further three years suspended. The court also barred Rietumu from operating in France for five years.

A bank spokeswoman said: “At this moment it can be said we strongly disagree with the decision and this decision will be appealed.

“We have never been involved in the tax evasion and that neither the bank, nor its president personally, had any interest in these actions. Therefore, the imposed fine and sanctions against the president of the bank appear widely ungrounded.”

David Leask analysis: Watchdogs have grown teeth to crack down on money-laundering

French investigators have accused the bank of not co-operating during their five-year investigation. Rietumu denies this and stresses it always met anti-money-laundering regulations in its own country. The bank will not have to pay the fine – which is worth almost as much as Celtic, valued yesterday on the stock markets at £95m – until it has exhausted appeal proceedings. Rietumu, however, said it had made provisions to pay the fine.

The Herald has previously reported that agencies sell off-the-peg Scottish limited partnerships – which until reforms announced last month could be owned anonymous – with accounts at Rietumu Banka. One such account was frozen by Ukrainian authorities investigating an allegedly corrupt MP. Neither the bank nor Mr Desmond commented on this.

David Leask analysis: Watchdogs have grown teeth to crack down on money-laundering

Rietumu has previously been fined by its own regulator, which is under pressure from the European Union and United States to clean up its non-resident banks, for breaching money-laundering regulations.

At a trial earlier this year the court, Le Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris, heard Bensoussan would bill clients for providing internet shell companies and accounts at Rietumu to hide their wealth from tax authorities.

“I told myself it was tolerated,” said the 38-year-old self-taught financier. Last year chief prosecutor on the case, Ulrika Delaunay-Weiss, was asked by Latvia’s public broadcaster LSM’s De Facto if Rietumu willingly collaborated with money laundering rather than doing so inadvertently. She replied: “That’s the position of the investigating judge.”

She added: “That’s why he charged them. He thinks because of different elements that the bank and some of the responsible persons there knew that it was ... how can I say ... a system of money laundering.”