L'Oreal heiress sells Seychelles isle

Wed Aug 1, 2012 1:02pm EDT
 
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VICTORIA (Reuters) - The billionaire heiress to the L'Oreal beauty goods empire, Liliane Bettencourt, has sold a Seychelles island at the heart of a tax evasion case, the archipelago's government said.

France's richest woman sold the Indian Ocean island to an offshore company affiliated with Switzerland-based campaign group Save our Seas Foundation for $60 million plus $10.5 million for stamp duty and other taxes, ministers said.

Bettencourt, 89, bought D'Arros island in 1997. Her ownership came to light through media reports in 2010 claiming the island was undeclared to French authorities.

Seychelles Habitat Minister Christian Lionnet told a news conference on Tuesday that the government ordered Bettencourt to pay $8 million after the reports on the grounds that she had failed to properly involve the government in the purchase.

French authorities ordered Bettencourt in 2011 to pay nearly 108 million euros ($133 million) in unpaid taxes after finding undeclared accounts and discovering she owned the island.

A lawyer for the Bettencourt family declined to comment on the sale when contacted by Reuters.

D'Arros island, only 1.25 miles long, is due to be turned into a nature reserve after its purchase by SOSF.

"We are very happy because the new owners are conservation oriented, they have proven themselves with a good track record," Seychelles Environment Minister Rolph Payet said.

A French investigation is looking into financial relations between Bettencourt and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose house police raided earlier this month as part of the inquiry. In one strand, investigators are trying to establish whether Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign was funded illicitly.

(Reporting by George Thande; Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Janet Lawrence)