France's richest woman files suit over secret tapes

18th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, filed a police complaint against her daughter on Friday over the release of tapes reportedly revealing that the L'Oreal heiress conspired to evade taxes.

Bettencourt's ex-butler allegedly secretly recorded conversations between the 87-year-old heiress and her financial adviser that were later handed over to the billionaire's daughter.

Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who has been waging a bitter court battle against her mother over her handling of the family fortune, is accused of violation of privacy, theft and perjury, said the mother's lawyer George Kiejman.

Kiejman charged that the butler was working for Bettencourt-Meyers.

"We can assume that there was an espionage ring put in place for the benefit of and at the behest of her daughter," he said.

French police arrested the ex-butler on Wednesday and a computer expert was later detained for questioning over the tapes recorded between May 2009 and May 2010 in Bettencourt's villa in the posh suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

The butler's tapes are the latest twist in a long-running family feud between the billionaire and her daughter, who claims Bettencourt is mentally unfit after she gave lavish gifts to a photographer-friend.

The photographer, Francois-Marie Banier, goes on trial next month to answer charges that he took advantage of the heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune for receiving gifts worth one billion euros (1.24 billion dollars).

According to the Mediapart website, the recordings reveal that Bettencourt hid some 80 million euros in Swiss bank accounts that her financial adviser planned to move following a Franco-Swiss tax cooperation accord.

"We have to fix things with your Swiss accounts," said the financial adviser Patrick de Maistre, according to Mediapart. "We musn't get caught before Christmas."

The adviser then went on to say that he was planning to open new bank accounts in Singapore "because in Singapore, they can't ask for anything."

Bettencourt's lawyer Kiejman said he "did not rule out the possibility that the tapes were doctored."

Mediapart, the weekly Le Point and the Liberation daily said Bettencourt had purchased the island of D'Arros in the Seychelles but had not declared the transaction to French tax authorities.

© 2010 AFP

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