L 'Oreal heiress not fit to manage her €16bn fortune, rules French judge
THE L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt is to be placed under the guardianship of family members, a judge ruled yesterday.
The ruling appears to have finally settled a three-year mother-daughter feud over whether the 88-year-old is mentally fit to run her €16bn fortune.
Europe's richest woman, whom doctors reportedly diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's, will be placed under the guardianship of her 25-year-old grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers.
Her estranged daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, and grandsons Jean-Victor and Nicolas, will look after her wealth and property, according to Charlotte Robbe-Phan, the daughter's lawyer.
The lawyer said the ruling came as an "immense relief" to the family.
The three legal guardians promised that the new set-up would have no consequence on the running of L'Oreal, in which Mrs Bettencourt has a majority stake, and would not change a 2004 deal between the Bettencourt family and Nestle, which owns 29.6pc of L'Oreal.
According to the deal, Mrs Bettencourt and the world's largest food company gave each other right of first refusal over their stakes until April 29, 2014.
But Mrs Bettencourt's lawyer said he would appeal against the decision, alleging it "carries manifest legal errors and is contrary to all common sense". The guardianships will apply until the appeal hearing.
The court in Courbevoie, outside Paris, made the ruling after a request by Mrs Bettencourt's daughter, who had repeatedly claimed that her mother was being preyed upon by a rapacious entourage of friends and advisers.
The judge based her decision on a medical report which found that the heiress was suffering from "mixed dementia" and "moderately severe" Alzheimer's. The report, leaked to 'Le Monde' newspaper, concluded that she "suffers from cognitive difficulties evidenced by temporal disorientation, memory problems, reasoning difficulties and aphasic elements".
The ruling came a day after Mrs Bettencourt threatened to leave France rather than be placed under her daughter's care. "If my daughter looks after me I would feel stifled. If it's her, I will leave," she said in an interview in 'Le Journal du Dimanche'.
"She would have liked to have been like me yet she is my exact opposite. I stifle her. Even dead I will stifle her."
When asked whether she would move to Switzerland, she replied: "No, I no longer do much skiing."
Mother and daughter first fell out in 2007, when Ms Bettencourt-Meyers accused a society photographer of bamboozling her mother out of art and life insurance worth €1bn. She said her mother was no longer in command of her mental faculties and should be put under legal wardship.
Francois-Marie Banier was Mrs Bettencourt's sole named beneficiary in a will drawn up in December, 2007. But Mrs Bettencourt cut the photographer out of her will earlier this year, depriving him of hundreds of millions of euro.
The family feud became an affair of state last year when an investigation was launched into Mrs Bettencourt's donations to President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party during the 2007 presidential election.
Mother and daughter were reconciled in December 2010, abandoning all the legal proceedings they had initiated against each other.
The dispute flared again in June, when Mrs Bettencourt-Meyers again sought legal wardship for her mother, saying she was surrounded by a predatory "circle who pretend to be affectionate to the detriment of the family". This entourage, she alleged, were scheming against her mother's interests.
In particular, she pointed the finger at Pascal Wilhem, a lawyer, and until yesterday Mrs Bettencourt's "protector" and adviser who handled her fortune. She claimed he acted against her interests by encouraging a business deal with another of his clients. Last week police searched Mr Wilhem's Paris offices and yesterday the judge revoked his mandate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)