PARIS — François-Marie Banier, the photographer sentenced to three years in jail for “abusing the weakness” of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt after she gave him gifts worth hundreds of millions of euros, has claimed his innocence and said he will appeal the ruling.
In an interview with the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, Banier accuses Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, of mounting a media campaign against him and claims the court did not give him a fair hearing. He said he was speaking out for the first time to tell his side of the story.
“I have always stayed silent and refused to grant interviews because I was convinced that all I needed to do to be judged equitably was to appear in court. I see now that this is not the case and, even worse, that the motivation for this ruling, which is full of factual errors, totally distorts the reality of my friendship with that great lady, Liliane Bettencourt. I am dismayed,” he told the paper.
The court on May 28 handed down a series of verdicts in the long-running case. Banier was sentenced to three years in jail, with six months suspended, handed a fine of 350,000 euros, or $385,000 at current exchange, and ordered to reimburse 158 million euros, or $173.5 million, to the Bettencourt family.
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“Of course I have appealed. There can be no worse sentence than this. […] I obviously don’t have these 158 million [euros.] The Meyers want to see me ruined. But you know, fundamentally, I don’t care. It is so vile of them,” he said.
Banier reiterated that although he accepted extravagant gifts from Bettencourt, she gave them freely and was not mentally diminished at any point.
“Liliane was a woman like a queen, extremely determined. Everyone respected her, including me. It was impossible to manipulate her,” he said, lamenting that the court had portrayed Bettencourt as weak and incapacitated.
“I swear, I never saw Liliane diminished, except for a bit of forgetfulness toward the end, but very slight,” said Banier, who last saw the heiress in 2010.