Daughter of L’Oréal heiress says artist plotted to ‘destroy’ family
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The daughter of France’s richest woman told a courtroom on Friday that millionaire artist François-Marie Banier conspired to ruin relations between the two women as a dramatic legal case came to a head in the southwest city of Bordeaux.
Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who has accused Banier and others of taking advantage of her elderly and hugely wealthy mother Liliane Bettencourt, took the witness stand on Friday as part of a trial that kicked off this week after years of investigation.
“I got along great with my mother until 1993 and then everything changed because Mr. Banier took up more and more space,” Bettencourt-Meyers told judge Denis Roucou. “The motto of Mr. Banier was ‘divide and conquer’. He planned the destruction.”
She said her late father, André Bettencourt, who built a fortune at the head of the cosmetics empire L’Oréal, told her that Banier was a “crook” shortly before his death in 2007. In 2006 Liliane Bettencourt had cut ties with her daughter, refusing to see her.
The 92-year-old heiress, whose fortune is estimated at 33 billion euros according to Forbes magazine, gave Banier lavish gifts, including Picasso and Matisse paintings, life insurance funds and millions in cash.
Bettencourt-Meyers filed charges against Banier in 2007 for exploiting her mother's alleged senility. On Friday she was questioned for two and a half hours.
“I wanted to save my mother from that trap. Banier was capable of anything. I love my mother and if I did all this, it’s only to protect her,” Betttencourt-Meyer, who has since reconciled with her mother, added on Friday.
Banier, who was the first person to take the stand this week, claimed that Bettencourt "found pleasure in giving the money" and was of sound mind when the two were close.
Bettencourt-Meyers's turn on the witness stand was only the latest chapter in a sprawling case that began seven years ago and has included a dose of political intrigue.
Ten people, including Banier, but also Bettencourt’s financial manager Patrice de Maistre and former French budget minister Eric Woerth also face charges in the case that is scheduled to last five weeks.
Woerth has been accused of taking illegal campaign funds from Bettencourt as former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer in 2007.
Sarkozy himself was under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and taking advantage of the aging heiress, but charges against the former head of state were dropped in October 2013.
The case took yet another dramatic spin on the first day of the trial on Monday, with the news that one of the accused, Bettencourt’s former nurse, unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by hanging himself and was in a coma.