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PARIS — Now the mother has sued the daughter — L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt filed a complaint Wednesday against her daughter for “moral violence.”
The lawsuit follows a third attempt by Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, to have her mother declared incompetent.
This story first appeared in the October 21, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The successive and violent complaints, the indecent exposure of her private life and minor aspects of her state of health in the press are repeated attacks on the tranquility and serenity [Mrs. Bettencourt] aspires to,” according to a statement issued by Bettencourt’s advisers. “Liliane Bettencourt is tired and outraged over this legal and media battle initiated by her only daughter.
“She no longer intends to let herself be discredited, criticized and impeded in her freedom of movement and speech when all attempts at making amends have until now failed,” the statement added.
Bettencourt refuses to be a victim, the statement said, “not least to her daughter.”/10
The lawsuit was filed on the same day that the 87-year-old’s medical records were seized at the home of Professor Gilles Brücker, who had always claimed not to be the Bettencourt’s general practitioner, just a family friend and medical adviser. She had also designated Brücker to be executor of her will, although last month he renounced that role, which involved a payment of one million euros, or $1.4 million at current exchange.
Bettencourt’s health records will now be examined by a team of medical experts. If she is put under guardianship, as her daughter requests, her position on L’Oréal’s board of directors could be at risk, experts in company law told WWD.
Bettencourt’s lawsuit against her daughter is certain to prolong a scandal that has gripped all of France for months — and has turned from a family skirmish into a major political furor stretching up to the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Most people bet the affair will force Sarkozy’s current labor minister, Eric Woerth, who is leading Sarkozy’s pension reform plan, to step down for allegedly taking illegal funds to help finance Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. And many believe the saga is helping to undermine Woerth’s boss and, possibly, any hopes Sarkozy has of running for a second term in 2012.
His poll ratings have been dented, while Bettencourt herself has become a symbol of the wealthy’s influence on French politics at a time when Sarkozy is trying to slash government spending.
The president’s moves to trim the budget — and to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60 — have ignited violent protests across France that continued for a fifth day Wednesday. The riots and skirmishes were especially violent in Parisian suburbs and several cities, including Lyon.
Rail and air traffic have been severely disrupted, and a weeklong refinery strike has left thousands of gas stations dry and even fuel depots blockaded, threatening to paralyze road transport.
Moreover, economists predict austerity measures being implemented across the Eurozone to stem ballooning budget deficits will dampen household morale throughout the second half of the year, causing consumer spending to slow — although the majority think a double-dip recession is unlikely.
Meanwhile, the feud between mother and daughter has begun to dent L’Oréal’s image — a recent poll saw its ranking among French firms and their reputations plummet from a year ago. The 14 directors on the company’s board are Liliane Bettencourt, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers and her husband Jean-Pierre Meyers from the Bettencourt family; three representatives of Nestlé, the group’s other majority shareholder, and six independent directors. The legal battles also could impact L’Oréal’s future ownership — if Liliane Bettencourt’s seat on the board is indeed at risk, such a change could potentially unbalance voting on the committee, which elects the company’s chief executive, for example
Bettencourt, who has a net worth estimated at $21.61 billion, is the beauty giant’s largest single shareholder. Bettencourt Meyers already has a 31 percent stake in the world’s largest beauty company, which her mother has given her in bare ownership, while Bettencourt collects dividends and controls voting rights. Under French law, a parent cannot totally disinherit an offspring, but questions are being raised about how much Bettencourt wants to leave her daughter — especially given the rancor between them.
A letter issued last week by Bettencourt, in which she vowed to sue her daughter, was yet another blast in the long-running battle between mother and daughter over the 1 billion euros, or $1.39 billion, that Bettencourt gave to photographer François-Marie Banier. The scandal began in December 2007, when Bettencourt Meyers sued Banier over the gifts he received from her mother, alleging Banier’s “exploitation of weakness” of Bettencourt.
Since that time, the affair has revealed Bettencourt paid L’Oréal president Lindsay Owen-Jones 100 million euros, or $136 million; that L’Oréal had a contract with Banier that paid him 710,000 euros, or $928,325, a year, which L’Oréal has since canceled, and that Bettencourt allegedly funneled money to Sarkozy’s political party via Woerth.