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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-03-05

L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has been named the wealthiest woman in the world after breaking into Forbes magazine’s “Top 20 Billionaires” list for the first time since 1999. Her net worth is estimated at $30 billion.

Liliane Bettencourt's grip on cosmetics and beauty giant L'Oréal has loosened considerably over the years. And yet the 90-year-old L'Oréal heiress is getting richer by the day.

Forbes ranked Bettencourt and her family at number nine on its “2013’s Top 20 Billionaires” list, with a net worth of $30 billion, making her not only the world’s richest woman, but also the wealthiest person in France. Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of the luxury group LVMH, came in just behind Bettencourt with a net worth of $29 billion, dropping six places on the list from last year.

Born in Paris in 1922, Bettencourt was the only child of L‘Oréal founder Eugène Schueller. She inherited the L’Oréal fortune upon her father’s death in 1957, becoming the firm’s main shareholder. According to Forbes, she still owns 30 percent of the company’s shares -- the source of her considerable wealth.

From family feud...

The French public was given a rare glimpse into Bettencourt’s life in 2010 after a legal battle with her only daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, created a scandal that reached into the highest echelons of government. Convinced that her mother, who suffers from dementia, had been swindled by celebrity photographer François-Marie Banier out of millions of euros in cash and gifts, Bettencourt-Meyers sought to have her placed under legal guardianship.

Banier fiercely denied Bettencourt-Meyers’ charges, while Bettencourt herself at one point accused her daughter of “vile doggedness” in her determination to get her hands on the family fortune.

The saga quickly spiraled out of control amid allegations that Liliane Bettencourt had showered former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign with illegal contributions. The scandal soon focused squarely on Sarkozy’s trusted ally and then-labour minister, Eric Woerth.

... to political scandal

While Sarkozy ultimately emerged from the scandal relatively unscathed, Woerth was not as fortunate. He was forced to leave government amid widespread calls for his resignation in July, 2010.

As Woerth dominated headlines across France, Bettencourt and her daughter reconciled, bringing a brief end to the bitter legal battle that had turned family gossip into fodder for the press. One year later, though, in 2011, the scandal resurfaced, this time with Bettencourt-Meyers successfully gaining legal guardianship of her mother, and, therefore, control of the family fortune.

Since then, Bettencourt has been replaced on L’Oréal’s board by her grandson Jean-Victor Meyers. Regardless, she has continued to accrue wealth over the past few years, catapaulting her once again into the Forbes's top 20 list for the first time in over a decade.

Date created : 2013-03-05


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