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François-Marie Banier Gets Reduced Sentence in Bettencourt Appeal

The photographer had been convicted of exploiting the weakness of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

PARIS — An appeals court in Bordeaux, France, handed photographer François-Marie Banier a four-year suspended sentence and a fine of 375,000 euros, or $422,500, in a case accusing him of exploiting L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in France, according to various news reports.

Banier, a photographer who has shot campaigns for Diane von Furstenberg, had been sentenced in May 2015 to three years in jail, with six months suspended, for “abusing the weakness” of Bettencourt after she gave him assets valued at around one billion euros, or $1.13 billion at current exchange.

Banier claimed innocence and launched an appeal.

At last year’s trial, Banier also was ordered to reimburse 158 million euros, or $178 million, to the Bettencourt family, which the appeals court did not uphold.

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Newspaper Le Monde quoted Banier’s lawyer calling the decision a “bitter blow” to Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the daughter of Bettencourt, and her children.

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Her lawyer had a different take.

“The decision of the Paris Court of Appeal is very severe for Mr. Banier,” said Jean Veil. “As is the custom in France, the judges consider the personalities of the convicted, and if any match, the sentence is suspended. Thus François-Maris Banier is condamned to four years imprisonment – the maximum possible by law is five – but given the lack of conviction and his age, 70, the court issued a suspended prison sentence. Motivation notes the extremely grave maneuvers committed by the convicted for abusing sick Mrs. Liliane Bettencourt and her weakness.”

Scores of people have been embroiled in the long-running case, including financial advisers and politicians.

Also on Wednesday, Martin d’Orgeval was convicted and given an 18-month suspended sentence. Pascal Wilhelm got 12 months, also suspended.

The so-called Bettencourt affair has involved conversations secretly taped by a butler, morphed into an affair of state and even had a play written in its honor.

It began in December 2007, when Meyers brought a lawsuit against Banier. She alleged he exploited the weakness of her mother.

In 2015, Bettencourt Meyers told the court she started legal proceedings when Banier was trying to talk her mother into adopting him.