Student Work – Liliane Bettencourt (not quite dead yet – and already her estate is a hot mess!)

 

by Joy Martinez, Honors Capstone Student Fall 2010

Headlines have painted a face of disdain on that of Francis Marie-Banier, artist, writer, photographer and most importantly, the named billionaire beneficiary of Liliane Bettencourt. As heiress of the cosmetic empire, L’Oreal, Bettencourt has been dubbed the “richest woman of France” and “the 21st richest person on Forbes list,” racking  upassets estimated at a value of £8,000,000,000 or €9,416,000,000, or even over $20,000,000,000 U.S. dollars, as reported by the New York Times. Allbusiness.com reports that there exists in a Parisian bank a safe deposit box belonging to the heiress, which box contains what was once, undisclosed assets which it describes as, “rows and rows of precious gems,” and “rivers of diamonds.”

Bettencourt’s assets have become the arrow’s target in a nasty lawsuit filed by her only child and daughter, Francoise Meyers-Bettencourt, who accuses Banier of manipulating the 86-year old heiress into leaving him more than a billion euro worth of assets.  After the passing of the heiress’ late husband, Ms. Meyers-Bettencourt, a rightful heir by law, took legal action against Banier, alleging that he took advantage of her mother’s frail mental state and since 2001, duped her into bequeathing him artwork and cash, and naming him benefactor of insurance policies. In France, Banier was scheduled to be tried in July. He faces charges of exploitation, which charge carries a punishment of up to three years imprisonment. However, the trial was adjourned to a later date after the release of secret recordings seized by the French police from the elderly Bettencourt’s home, which recordings allegedly implicate her in a tax evasion scheme.

Banier is described as a 63-year old society artist who has been seen schmoozing with the likes of Dadaist painter Salvador Dali, fashion designing veteran moguls Yves Saint Laurent and Diane Von Fustenberg, and bad boy actor Johnny Depp.  Apparently, he met Ms. Bettencourt in 1997 when he was hired to take photos of her and other dignitaries for Egoiste magazine. Ironically, the fame and recognition Banier gained as an artist has become a fleeting glimpse in light of the controversy which seems to savagely consume him.  According to Bloomberg News, the legal action taken has become such a travesty in the eyes of the European press that L’Oreal terminated its one time contract(s) for €700,000 worth of artistic work with Banier, possibly to protect its own rapport with stockholders and consumers.

Counsel for Meyers-Bettencourt has pulled no shorts in proving that the elderly heiress lacks mental capacity. On behalf of the petitioner, counsel submitted medical reports allegedly supporting such and convincing the court to order Bettencourt to submit to a psychological examination. Bettencourt downright refused to obey the court’s order. Reports have been made by Bettencourt’s staff that she is becoming more and more forgetful and that Banier “bullied” her into accepting him as a member of her family.

As a battle royale within a family of the rich and famous, there is one major twist to this. Bettencourt’s staff alleges that Banier wants to be accepted as family, but the media has sensationalized the relationship between the two as the “Bettencourt affair.” The New York Times calls it “a romantic stew”. Not once did we hear that Banier convinces or at least tries to convince Bettencourt to marry him. Another rarity is that the elderly Bettencourt described her own daughter as “being jealous.” Yet, she respects Banier as “a man full of ingenuity.”  It appears as though Bettencourt has developed some form of intimate interest, familial or not, with Banier to the point where she refuses to submit to a medical report. Not only will the release of a medical report be an invasion of Bettencourt’s privacy, but she may also find any conclusion of mental instability a threat to her public image as a grand political influential. Does this all result from an affair and seething jealously on the part of the daughter or from downright unjust gain by way of undue influence, coercion and duress on the part of Banier?  Underneath all of this wealth and prestige, there lies an enigma comprehensible to only Ms. Bettancourt and her immediate constituent.

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