PHOTO OP: Images of a smiling judge Isabelle Prévost-Desprez popped up on the Web sites of numerous French newspapers on Thursday afternoon, right after she was acquitted of having leaked information about the Bettencourt case to two journalists from Le Monde.
The publications reported that the magistrate’s court of Bordeaux, France, had found insufficient evidence to charge her for a “violation of professional secret.”
Prévost-Desprez’s two-day hearing took place in early June, and Bordeaux’s public prosecutor had requested that she get fined 5,000 euros, or $5,546 at current exchange.
The decision Thursday marked the close of yet another chapter in the tenticular case that still is winding its way through the French legal system years after it began.
What’s become known as the Bettencourt affair dates back to 2007, when the daughter of 92-year-old L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt (who is France’s wealthiest woman) brought a lawsuit against the photographer François-Marie Banier. She alleged he exploited the mental health of her mother, who has long suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and had given him assets valued at around 1 billion euros, or $1.11 billion.
The Bettencourt saga has been full of high drama and intrigue, with surprising twists and turns. At one point it was revealed that Bettencourt’s butler had secretly taped conversations. The case morphed into a state issue and even had two plays written about it.
The central trial related to the affair opened in late January with 10 people charged with having abused the weakness of Bettencourt. The defendants all denied wrongdoing in the legal proceedings that lasted five weeks, with closing arguments heard in late February.
Several verdicts were handed down on May 28, when the heaviest sentence went to Banier. He was given a three-year jail term, with six months suspended; fined 350,000 euros, or $388,244, and ordered to reimburse 158 million euros, or $175.2 million, to Bettencourt.