Eight advisors guilty of fleecing L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for hundreds of millions
A French court has found eight people guilty of exploiting 92-year-old L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, one of the world's richest people.
Among those convicted was society photographer Francois-Marie Banie, who was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to repay €158 million stolen from France’s wealthiest woman.
The 67-year-old has long been seen as a confidant of the ailing Mrs Bettencourt.
Worth €36 billion, the L’Oreal heiress is said to have lavished the photographer with gifts worth hundreds of millions of euro, including artworks by Picasso and Matisse.
She had even made him her sole heir at one point.
A string of former advisers were also found guilty of “abusing the weakness” of Ms Bettencourt, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The verdict brings to an end a long-running a feud between Mrs Bettencourt and her daughter.
Ms Bettencourt-Meyers said her mother, whose medical records revealed she suffers from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, was being exploited by Mr Banie and others.
The court in Bourdeaux agreed, saying Banier had "a real moral and psychological hold" on Mrs Bettencourt.
“She found herself at the mercy of men in whom she placed her trust,” said the judge.
The abuse came to light after Mrs Bettencourt’s butler secretly recorded her conversations with her entourage.
In one, the confused heiress was asked by Patrice de Maistre, her wealth manager, to hand over a million euros for “the yacht of my dreams”.
When her daughter first claimed Mr Banie was manipulating her, Mrs Bettencourt insisted she could spend her time and money on who she saw fit, briefly making him sole heir to her fortune.
Among those who appeared in court but who were cleared of any wrongdoing was Eric Woerth, campaign treasurer and budget minister for former French President’s Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr Woerth had been accused of influence-peddling after taking donations of cash from Mrs Bettencourt before Mr Sarkozy’s 2007 election.
He was also charged with misusing his position to secure favours from Mrs Bettencourt’s wealth manager, by urging him to employ his wife in exchange for receiving the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration.