PARIS — French newspaper Le Monde published Wednesday an exclusive, two-page interview (including a page-one start) with photographer François-Marie Banier. It came just two days before a hearing in the case pitting Banier against the granddaughter of L’Oréal’s founder, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers.
This story first appeared in the December 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As reported, in December 2007, Bettencourt Meyers lodged a complaint in the public prosecutor’s office of Nanterre, France, for “exploitation of weakness” of her mother, Liliane Bettencourt. This followed Bettencourt giving Banier gifts amounting to almost 1 billion euros, or $1.47 billion.
In the Le Monde piece, which appears in Q&A format and is illustrated with pictures such as one of Bettencourt and Banier and another of Banier and Salvador Dali, Banier discusses his life — including his writing and photography, his loves and friendships, not least the one with Bettencourt.
In the article, Banier is told many people have questioned his influence on Bettencourt, and he responded: “I am accustomed to slanderous rumors. It is too bad that it’s come to this, but all the noise doesn’t rattle me. There has always been pandemonium surrounding me.
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“Some said that I wanted to be adopted by Liliane Bettencourt. How absurd. We didn’t even speak of that,” he continued.
To the question concerning whether he had forced Bettencourt to give him the money, he said: “It is a matter of gifts, which I longtime refused. These gifts come from a woman who is totally lucid. The first go back to 1995 and spread over 10 years. And I am not the only one — far from that — to have benefited.”
As reported, over the weekend, some French newspapers cited court documents in which Banier is said to have told authorities that Bettencourt had given gifts to a number of other people, including two former heads of L’Oréal, Lindsay Owen-Jones and François Dalle. They were reportedly given 100 million euros, or $146.9 million, and 8 percent of the firm’s shares as a reward for building the company into the industry leader.
Banier goes on to say, “Two days ago, Liliane said to me, ‘My daughter will have a lot [referring to her inheriting Bettencourt’s approximately 30 percent stake in L’Oréal]. But I still have the intention to live five minutes.’ What has really gone on will be demonstrated before the court. If there is a case, I am very serene.”
To illustrate his lack of guilt, Banier said, “For the past 10 years, L’Oréal has sponsored my books. Would one sponsor a crook?
“All that she has given me is nothing compared to what she has taught me,” continued Banier of Bettencourt, citing optimism, hope and elegance. Banier called their relationship “immensely respectful.”
He said he sees Bettencourt frequently.
“People want to pass her off as senile while she is a free woman,” said Banier.
In other Bettencourt-related news, a guardianship judge in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, reportedly turned down Bettencourt Meyers’ application to obtain legal protection for her mother.