Thursday, February 26, 2015
The New York Times offers dramatic front page coverage of a criminal trial against ten defendants in France, accused of manipulation of Liliane Bettencourt, the 92 year-old heir of the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune. The defendants include a "celebrity photographer" (and his "long-time companion"), a former wealth manager, and an 81-year-old notary "who certified, with misgivings, Mrs. Bettencourt's decision to make" the 67-year-old photographer her sole heir, cutting out her only daughter.
Serious money is involved, with Forbes once estimating Mrs. Bettencourt's fortune at more than $40 billion. She has been diagnosed with "dementia and moderately severe Alzheimer's."
The prosecutors said her advanced age, the beginnings of dementia and a daily medical regimen of 56 pills, including antidepressants, also invited exploitation. And investigators contend that the schemes were so widespread that they included a political scandal involving a former finance minister seeking cash for the 2007 presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Some of the house staff members risked their jobs to challenge her advisers and confidants, particularly a French society photographer who gained the largest share of her fortune. At one point, investigators estimated that share to be about a billion euros, or $1.13 billion, in gifts during 20 years of friendship ending in 2010.
“Liliane wanted to do things for me, to ease my life,” testified the photographer, François-Marie Banier, 67, who is facing the highest penalty of the defendants, three years in prison. “I refused things like a mansion. But she took it so poorly. It’s really hard to cross that extraordinary woman.”
For all the details, sadly familiar if you followed the Brooke Astor history of wealth and manipulation, about the trial that just ended before a panel of judges who will issue their verdict on May 28, read "The Case of L'Oreal Heiress, A Private World of Wealth Becomes Public."