Photographer on Trial for Receiving Gigantic Gifts from L'Oreal Heiress
Bettencourt’s only child, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, filed a private prosecution against the photographer last year, claiming he manipulated her infirm mother to get art, real estate and cash gifts. Some of the gifts Banier reportedly got included a Picasso painting and an island in the Seychelles.
The trial opened briefly Thursday, then closed hours later as the three-judge panel decided it needed more time to study some recordings made by Bettencourt's butler, which have implications that reach beyond the trial, shaking the highest echelons of power in France and embarrassing the government — in part because the wife of a leading minister worked for the company managing Liliane Bettencourt's fortune.
Before the trial opened, both sides were understood to have agreed to an adjournment to assess the importance of tapes secretly recorded by Bettencourt’s butler. They purport to show that Bettencourt was in an unfit mental state to decide what to do with her money.
The tapes also allegedly reveal that Bettencourt hid 80 million euros from the taxman in Swiss banks, while making large donations to members of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party.
The recordings have sparked a row over Labor Minister Eric Woerth's position in government, since his wife worked for Bettencourt’s estate while he was budget minister responsible for policing tax fraud.
Bettencourt, who insists that she acted of her own free will, has refused to undergo psychological testing requested by the courts after privately commissioned tests declared her in perfect mental health.
“I give to my loved ones and that is my choice,” she told Le Monde newspaper.
Bettencourt is No. 17 on Forbes magazine's list of the richest people worldwide, with a net worth of $20 billion.
Mother and daughter no longer speak and neither was present in court.
Banier faces up to three years in prison and a 75,000 euro ($92,000) fine if he's convicted.