The long-awaited trial over accusations that as many as 10 people defrauded France’s richest woman, got off to a bang (or an attempted hang) with the failed suicide bid of one of the defendants. Liliane Bettencourt was the 12th richest woman in the world, and inherited the world-famous cosmetics company L’Oreal from her father, Eugene Schueller, who was a Nazi sympathizer and funded La Cagoule, the violent French fascist group her husband, Andre Bettencourt belonged to before becoming one of Charles de Gaulle’s ministers.
The picture emerges that either Liliane was extraordinarily open handed with her friends or was basically robbed repeatedly in the last years of her life and betrayed by almost everyone close to her. What lies at the center is the accusation made by her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, that Francois-Marie Banier defrauded her mother of 400 million euros or $454 million by emotionally manipulating her and taking advantage of her weakened condition. He received Picasso and Matisse paintings along with other valuable objects. Skeptics think the daughter was jealous of the relationship between her mother and Banier, and understandably upset he was getting a lot of expensive presents.
However, a definite pattern emerges. In 2011, Bettencourt was declared unfit to run her own affairs and had suffered from dementia and Alzheimers since 2006. On the morning the hearing was supposed to take place in a Bordeaux court, Alain Thurin, the heiress’ former nurse, attempted to hang himself and is in a hospital. He is accused of bullying his employer into setting up a huge bank account in his name.
The drama is complex as the 70s soap opera Dallas, a comparison made by many French citizens. Even former Prime Minster Nicolas Sarkozy was questioned but cleared over benefiting from envelopes stuffed with cash which were apparently traced to one of those who are accused of defrauding Bettencourt. In 2009, her butler, Pascal Bonnefoy recorded phone conversations, apparently for purposes of blackmail. Patrice de Miastre, her financial manager, also allegedly swindled her. Others are accused of cheating her in online gaming and art scams. In all, it seems that hundreds of millions were stolen or forcibly extracted from Bettencourt prior to her death in 2010 at 92.