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Police arrest four as L’Oreal scandal escalates

Video by Pauline GODART , Kathryn STAPLEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-07-16

French police have detained a financial advisor, lawyer, society photographer and island manager connected to France’s richest woman and L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, in the latest chapter in a scandal that has rocked French politics.

In the latest twist in a saga that is rocking French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, police on Thursday arrested four people connected to billionnaire L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

 
Bettencourt’s financial advisor Patrice de Maistre and celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier were formally detained for questioning at the Paris office of the financial crimes unit.
  
Her former tax lawyer Fabrice Goguel was also held, along with Carlos Vejarano, the manager of the Arros island in the Seychelles which Bettencourt allegedly owns and has used as a tax haven.
  
Police have opened three investigations involving Bettencourt, who is France's richest woman, following allegations of tax evasion and illegal donations to Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign.
 
What the butler heard
  
The multi-layered scandal exploded last month when investigative website Mediapart released transcripts of conversations between Bettencourt and de Maistre that were secretly recorded by her butler.
  
The tapes reportedly revealed that Bettencourt plotted to evade taxes, hiding some 80 million euros in Swiss bank accounts.
  
De Maistre, Banier, Goguel and Vejarano were expected to be held for 48 hours, after which police will have to decide whether to press charges.
  
Police searched the homes and offices of several people linked to Bettencourt on Monday, including the Paris apartment of Banier, who is accused by Bettencourt's daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers of taking advantage of her mother's frailty to benefit from up to one billion euros’ worth of cash and gifts.
  
Bettencourt-Meyers has asked a judge to declare her mother incapable of managing her 17-billion-euro (20-billion-dollar) fortune.
  
"This is an important step because for months we have been saying that Liliane Bettencourt is surrounded by predators," said lawyer Olivier Metzner, representing the daughter. "We consider that she is not acting responsibly because she is being steered," he said, accusing Bettencourt's entourage of "taking her money."
 
Link to controversial pensions reforms
  
The 87-year-old Bettencourt is the sole heir to the L'Oréal cosmetics empire, which comprises global brands like Lancome and Maybelline. She ranks 17th on the Forbes list of the world's richest people.
  
President Sarkozy became entangled in the scandal after Bettencourt's former accountant told police that Bettencourt and her late husband André had illegally contributed 150,000 euros in cash to his 2007 election campaign, channelled through his party treasurer and current Labour Minister Eric Woerth.
  
Woerth resigned as UMP treasurer this week. Both he and Sarkozy say they are part of a smear campaign intended to undermine controversial pensions reforms which are opposed by trade unions and the opposition Socialist Party.
     
Woerth, the architect of the pensions reform bill, has been under constant fire for weeks, after it emerged that his wife worked for a firm managing Bettencourt's wealth. Florence Woerth has since quit her job.

 

Date created : 2010-07-15

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