PARIS — L’Oréal’s largest single shareholder, Liliane Bettencourt, lashed out at her daughter and at a judge after her house in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, was searched Wednesday as the scandal that is gripping all of France continues to dominate the headlines.
“I am outraged and shocked, hurt and sad to see my private life strewn out and violated again,” said the 87-year-old daughter of L’Oréal’s founder in a handwritten statement issued by her spokeswoman Wednesday evening. “The financial brigade asked me this morning by telephone if I accepted a search of my home at the request of [Judge Isabelle] Prévost-Desprez. Having absolutely nothing to hide, I obviously accepted. I am therefore horribly shocked to learn the locks of my cabinets had been forced and the rooms of my employees searched.
“I do not understand that I could be treated like this — if I believe what I read, I am supposed to be a victim,” continued Bettencourt. “The way my daughter is unrelenting and the judge behaves proves that they consider me vigorous enough to suffer their humiliations and attacks. I wanted therefore to express publicly my indignation.”
The search is the latest in a series related to the ongoing Bettencourt affair, which began when Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, started legal proceedings against François-Marie Banier in December 2007. She alleges Banier exploited the weakness of Bettencourt, who had given him assets valued at almost 1 billion euros, or $1.28 billion at current exchange. He denies any wrongdoing.
The ever-evolving case has had far-flung impacts, sending shock waves through even the highest echelons of the French government. On Saturday, it was revealed that Bettencourt had cut Banier out of her will in mid-July. It was estimated he had stood to inherit about 1.25 billion euros, or $1.6 billion, as her sole legatee.
On Wednesday, police searched Bettencourt’s house for scraps of paper with words that had allegedly been used by Banier and her financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre, to increase their influence over her, reported Le Monde newspaper’s Thursday edition. It said according to the testimony of a former maid, Dominique Gaspard, the typed-on papers allegedly had been put in Bettencourt’s bathroom and lounge, among other familiar places such as in handbags and pockets. Sometimes the papers contained longer phrases that Bettencourt was meant to memorize before certain important meetings, according to Gaspard. Le Monde said Wednesday that Gaspard told police where in Bettencourt’s house she had hid the papers.
Claire Thibout, who had worked as an accountant for the Bettencourts, also had told Prévost-Desprez about the papers and the role Banier and de Maistre played in writing them, said Le Monde’s story.
The police were looking, as well, to verify that certain works of art wouldn’t leave Bettencourt’s house and be put into Banier’s home, according to the report.
Prévost-Desprez, of the criminal court of Nanterre, France, on July 1 demanded that supplementary information be gathered before a trial date is set in the Bettencourt Meyers-Banier case. A few weeks prior, French police received more than 20 hours of secretly recorded discussions from May 2009 to May 2010 between Bettencourt and her advisers, among others. Bettencourt Meyers was given the clandestine recordings made by her mother’s former butler that cover subjects such as tax evasion and havens, then turned them over to authorities. The tapes set off inquiries into claims of illegal campaign funding for French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, and have become a major political headache for the beleaguered Sarkozy, whose disapproval ratings have shot up in recent months to the point where the majority of French voters don’t want him to seek reelection in 2012.
On Aug. 17, the appellate court of Versailles, France, heard the opposition to that demand made by Bettencourt’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman. A decision regarding the appeal is to be handed down Sept. 14.
“I am shocked but not surprised, knowing the way Mrs. Prévost-Desprez functions [and] whose bias I have already denounced,” said Kiejman, according to Agence France-Presse newswire. “I wonder how the court will react to this search.”
Kiejman described it as unbelievably brutal and explained he is thinking of ways to have it punished, said the AFP.
Kiejman could not be reached for further comment.
Also on Wednesday, Paris Match magazine’s Web site reported the Banque de France had made an inquiry after it noted suspicious activity in one of Bettencourt’s accounts.
A Banque de France spokesman had no comment.