PARIS — The Bettencourt affair has commanded countless page-one stories, morphed into an affair of state and even had a play written in its honor. Yet little ink was spilled in Europe’s major newspapers this week about how 10 people will be tried in the ongoing saga by a Bordeaux, France-based court starting on Jan. 26.
Of the nation’s main print dailies, plus The Wall Street Journal’s Europe edition, International New York Times and Financial Times, only Le Figaro devoted a brief to the fact that the main part of the Bettencourt affair, involving the people accused of having abused the weakness of Liliane Bettencourt — the 91-year-old L’Oréal heiress — would be heard in January. It appeared on page 10 of the newspaper.
When the news broke on Tuesday, the Internet was abuzz briefly, with the likes of Libération, Le Parisien and Le Nouvel Observateur running stories on their Web sites. Yet there’s no doubt the French press will be transfixed when the high-profile case begins next year.
Among those to be judged in the trial, expected to last between four and five weeks in Bordeaux’s criminal court, are Eric Woerth, France’s former budget minister; Patrice de Maistre, a past financial advisor to Bettencourt; Pascal Wilhelm, who had once overseen Bettencourt’s affairs, and photographer François-Marie Banier.
France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s criminal investigation in the Bettencourt affair was dismissed in October 2013.
The Bettencourt saga began in December 2007, when Bettencourt’s daughter Françoise Bettencourt Meyers brought a lawsuit against Banier. She alleged he exploited the weakness of her mother, who gave him assets valued at about 1 billion euros, or $1.39 billion at current exchange.
The affair has subsequently taken numerous twists and turns, with some parts of it still winding their way through France’s judicial system.
Bettencourt in October 2011 was put under legal guardianship of her grandson Jean-Victor Meyers. He replaced her on L’Oréal’s board in April 2012.
The Bettencourt Meyers family — the French beauty giant’s largest individual shareholder — holds a 33.31 percent stake in the company.