Huge gifts cause legal trouble for L'Oreal heiress

Wed Dec 2, 2009 10:39am EST
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By Thierry Leveque

PARIS (Reuters) - A French judge will examine whether the elderly heiress to the L'Oreal fortune, Europe's richest woman, should be stripped of the right to manage her own affairs after showering gifts worth close to $1.5 billion on a friend.

Liliane Bettencourt, 87, says she was in full possession of her wits when she lavished cash, artworks and life insurance on photographer and socialite Francois-Marie Banier, 62, but her daughter disagrees and has taken her objections to the courts.

Lawyer Olivier Metzner, who represents the daughter, told Reuters on Wednesday that he had launched a civil procedure to try and have Bettencourt declared irresponsible and placed under the authority of a court-designated tutor.

The move is in addition to a separate criminal case in which the daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, is pressing charges against Banier, accusing him of taking advantage of an old lady's weakness to extort staggering sums from her.

"We have already taken action against the predator. Now we are taking action to protect my client's mother, to show that she is nothing more than a victim," said Metzner.

Bettencourt and Banier have refused for months to comment publicly on the case. Bettencourt's lawyer did not return calls seeking comment.

A fixture in fashionable Paris circles for four decades, Banier has been friends with Bettencourt since the mid-1980s, though the gifts under scrutiny date back only to 2002.

A DEAR FRIEND   Continued...