France

Defence in L'Oréal heiress case demands adjournment

AFP

The defence lawyer in the trial of celebrity photographer François-Marie Banier demanded an adjournment as soon as it opened, accusing the prosecution of “nauseating” behaviour. Banier is accused of cheating L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt out of a billion euros.

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The hearing began at a court in Nanterre, near Paris, on Thursday after months of heavy media coverage.

It pits Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, 87-year-old Bettencourt’s daughter, against Banier and her mother, the richest woman in France. Its fallout has threatened the career of Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Banier, 63, is accused of “fraudulently” profiting from Bettencourt’s age and state of health to persuade her to give him paintings, cash and insurance policies worth one billion euros.

Bettencourt is currently estimated to be worth 17 billion euros, thanks to the cosmetics company founded by her father.

Bettencourt, who insists that she acted of her own free will, has refused to undergo psychological testing requested by the courts after privately commissioned tests declared her in perfect mental health.

“I give to my loved ones and that is my choice,” she told Le Monde newspaper.

The accused, who could be jailed for up to three years and fined 375,000 euros, claims to have refused the gifts for some time and also insists that Bettencourt is sane.

The prosecution claims that Banier, who has photographed celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Princess Caroline of Monaco, manipulated Bettencourt after the death of her husband, worked to estrange her from her family and tried to persuade her to adopt him.

At the opening of the trial Banier’s lawyer, Hervé Temime, called for an adjournment, accusing “one of the plaintiffs” of using methods which have gone beyond permissible limits.

Before the trial opened, both sides were understood to have agreed to an adjournment to assess the importance of tapes secretly recorded by Bettencourt’s butler. They purport to show that she was in an unfit mental state to decide what to do with her money.

They also allegedly reveal that she hid 80 million euros from the taxman in Swiss banks, while making large donations to members of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party.

The tapes have sparked a row over Woerth’s position in government, since his wife worked for Bettencourt’s estate while he was budget minister responsible for policing tax fraud.

 

 

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