Aug 30, 2010
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Photographer cut out of L'Oreal heiress's will

Aug 30, 2010

PARIS, Aug 28, 2010 (AFP) - France's richest woman has cut celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier out of her will, depriving him of an estimated 1.25 billion euros, in the latest twist in a family saga that has gripped France and shaken the government.

François-Marie Banier showing Liliane Bettencourt his photo exhibition. Photo : Corbis

"Liliane Bettencourt feels she had already given a lot to Mr. Banier, so she ended the arrangement which made him her sole named heir," her lawyer Georges Kiejman told AFP on Saturday.

Liliane Bettencourt is the sole heir of L'Oreal, the global shampoo and beauty products company that her father founded.

The change was made in mid-July, and no one else had been added to the will in his place, said Kiejman.

Banier has received gifts worth nearly a billion euros from the 87-year-old L'Oreal heiress over the years, sparking accusations from her daughter that he has abused their friendship.

Several judicial investigations are under way into affairs linked to Bettencourt's fortune, including allegations of tax evasion and illegal campaign funding that have implicated French Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Bettencourt's estranged daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers alleges people close to her mother, including Banier, have taken advantage of the heiress, who she claims is no longer in a fit mental state to manage her 16-billion-euro (20-billion-dollar) fortune.

Dubbed "photographer to the stars" after shooting the likes of US actor Johnny Depp and Princess Caroline of Monaco, Banier became close friends with Bettencourt after meeting her at a dinner party in 1969.

Among gifts he received from her were masterpiece paintings including works by Matisse and Mondrian worth 15 million euros (19 million dollars), several cheques and life insurance policies, according to Bettencourt-Meyers.

Banier, 63, was Bettencourt's sole named beneficiary in the will drawn up in December 2007, and was to receive around eight percent of Bettencourt's fortune, or an estimated 1.25 billion euros, a member of Bettencourt's entourage said in July.

Bettencourt's daughter and grandchildren would have received the rest of her fortune.

The 30 percent stake in the global cosmetics giant that lies behind Bettencourt's fortune is already in her daughter's name, although Bettencourt receives all dividends.

The Bettencourt saga enveloped the government after the leaking in June of secretly recorded tapes that appeared to reveal a 2007 conversation between Bettencourt and a business adviser in which they allegedly discussed means of avoiding French tax.

The name of Woerth, then budget minister and the campaign fundraiser for President Nicolas Sarkozy, also came up in the recordings, during which the cosmetics billionaire appears to sign cheques for political donations.

Reports in June revealed that when Woerth was budget minister and tasked with chasing tax dodgers, his wife Florence worked for the estate of Bettencourt, who is being investigated for alleged tax evasion.

Florence Woerth has since stepped down from her post linked to the Bettencourt fortune.

Woerth has denied any wrongdoing and Sarkozy has suggested they are part of a smear campaign.

By Mathieu Foulkes

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