French court orders trial in L'Oreal heiress case
A photographer accused of being a gold digger after he received a billion euros in gifts from France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, will face trial in April, a court ruled on Friday.Nanterre - A photographer accused of being a gold digger after he received a billion euros in gifts from France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, will face trial in April, a court ruled on Friday.
Bettencourt's daughter filed a suit in court, arguing that her mother, the 87-year-old billionaire heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune, was mentally incompetent.
The court in Nanterre, near Paris, ruled on Friday that writer and photographer Francois-Marie Banier should face trial on 15 and 16 April on a charge of abusing the vulnerability of the old woman.
It also ordered that Liliane Bettencourt be examined by doctors to establish her state of health -- a move that she has so far refused.
The three medics are set to report back on March 10, 2010 with their assessment of Bettencourt's mental health.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper published Wednesday, Banier said Bettencourt was "a completely sane woman" who had showered him with gifts.
Banier, 62, was given masterpiece paintings including works by Matisse and Mondrian worth EUR 15 million (USD 20 million), several cheques and life insurance policies between 2002 and 2007, according to the daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Myers.
"These were gifts that, for a long time, I refused. These gifts come from a completely sane woman," Banier told Le Monde in his first interview since the scandal broke in 2007.
If convicted he faces up to three years in prison and a fine of EUR 375,000.
Bettencourt-Meyers accuses Banier of taking advantage of her mother's frail health, saying she suffers from memory lapses that make her particularly vulnerable.
Bettencourt-Meyers also alleges that such is Banier's influence over her mother that staff at her mansion in a wealthy Paris suburb who testified in court have been sacked.
But her mother has insisted she is in full possession of her faculties and gave the money to Banier as gifts to a friend.
Bettencourt's lawyer in turn has accused Bettencourt-Meyers of trying to get her hands on her mother's 30 percent interest in the global cosmetics giant that lies behind her reported USD 13.4-billion fortune.