By  on November 17, 2010

PARIS — A French court ruled Wednesday that Françoise Bettencourt Meyers’ demand to have her mother, 88-year-old Liliane Bettencourt, put under guardianship merits examination.

The Courbevoie, France-based court’s decision followed the third request lodged by Bettencourt Meyers to have the L’Oréal heiress placed under legal protection. A court in Nanterre, France, threw out the two prior demands.

If Bettencourt is put under guardianship, her position on L’Oréal’s board could be at risk. She is the company’s largest individual shareholder, with a 31 percent stake.

Bettencourt Meyers filed an initial complaint against photographer François-Marie Banier in December 2007. She alleges he abused the weakness of Bettencourt, who gave him assets valued at about 1 billion euros, or $1.35 billion at current exchange. Banier has denied any wrongdoing, while Bettencourt has maintained she is sound and acting on her own free will.

On Nov. 3, Bettencourt Meyers launched a new legal proceeding against Banier, plus Patrice de Maistre, Bettencourt’s financial adviser, and Fabrice Goguel, her former tax lawyer. Bettencourt Meyers claims all three have abused the weakness of Bettencourt.

Also on Wednesday, a Paris-based court decided that Bettencourt-affair-related dossiers must be moved out of Nanterre to Bordeaux, France, which is deemed to be a setting where justice can be more serenely carried out. Nanterre is the stage of two dueling magistrates: government-appointed prosecutor Philippe Courroye and judge Isabelle Prévost-Desprez.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday evening, French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the nation in his first TV interview since reshuffling the government on Sunday.

Among the marked changes to the lineup was the absence of Eric Woerth, the former labor minister, who is being investigated for alleged influence peddling related to the Bettencourt affair, among other possible legal infractions.

It was asked whether Woerth’s elimination came because he’s considered guilty in what’s called the Woerth-Bettencourt affair.

“Certainly not,” replied Sarkozy. “I have great confidence in Eric Woerth, who is a perfectly honest man, who was a great labor minister and who incited my admiration for his courage and his dignity at the time of the retirement reform.

“He himself told me that it would be simpler for him to defend himself if he was no longer minister, because when one is no longer minister [on exiting] the judge’s chamber, there is one camera; when one is minister, there are a hundred,” continued Sarkozy.

He also fielded some press-related questions. Sarkozy claimed never to have been involved in spying on journalists. (Le Monde, for instance, alleges the government ordered counterespionage agents to find sources of news leaks, especially after the newspaper published a story in mid-July about ties between Bettencourt and Woerth.)

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