Photographer Francois-Marie Banier Detained In L'Oreal Scandal

July 16, 2010 /PN/ Police investigating the heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune on allegations of tax evasion and illegal political donations detained four of her associates for questioning Thursday.

Celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier, financial adviser Patrice de Maistre, a lawyer, and the manager of a private island linked to L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt were formally detained for questioning at the Paris office of the financial crimes unit, a judicial source said.

The four will be questioned as part of a preliminary inquiry into tax evasion. Mr de Maistre has already confirmed the existence of two Swiss bank accounts, holding €78m, which had not been declared to the French tax authorities. The island in the Seychelles also appears to have been overlooked, although it is not clear who owns this. Mrs Bettencourt has said that she intends to put all her tax affairs in order, and declare all foreign assets.

This week, just before he was taken for questioning, Banier gave a long interview to L'Express, shooting salvoes at his detractors. "Of course I can't influence Liliane Bettencourt," he protested. "I advised her to buy Cheval Blanc, the Premier Cru vineyard; Ilford, the British photographic company; [the ailing daily] Libération; a museum; a skyscraper for L'Oréal's new headquarters. She did none of it. How can anyone possibly think I manipulate her?"

On Wednesday, Bettencourt went on national television to say that she had ordered an audit of her companies to show that she was competent to run her own affairs.

The scandal has touched the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, after news emerged last month of tapes made secretly by Mrs. Bettencourt’s former butler that suggested efforts to evade taxes, and after a former accountant for her said this month that envelopes of cash for the 2007 presidential campaign had been given to Éric Woerth, the treasurer of Mr. Sarkozy’s party.

Diana Topan


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