French heiress denies being pressured by photographer

2nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman, Friday denied being pressured by a celebrity photographer who is facing charges of exploiting her.

Asked in an interview with French television channel TF1 whether she had felt under pressure from Francois-Marie Banier, the 87-year-old L'Oreal heiress replied: "No, no."

"I understand very well that a daughter can be jealous of her mother. I also was jealous of my father when I saw women all around him," she said.

Her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, has launched legal proceedings against the 63-year-old Banier, who received masterpiece paintings, cash and insurance policies worth a billion euros (about 1.2 billion dollars) from Bettencourt.

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.

He told Le Monde last year that Bettencourt was "completely sane" and gave him the gifts as a friend.

On Thursday, a French court indefinitely adjourned the Banier trial so that judges could examine sensitive new evidence: secret recordings of Bettencourt talking to aides, which sparked a scandal that has embarrassed the French government.

Defence lawyer Herve Temime said Banier could not get a fair trial in what he called a "nauseating and impossible" case, tainted by the political scandal and the clandestine recordings.

Eric Woerth, a high-profile minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, is facing calls for his resignation over his links to Bettencourt after taped conversations revealed last month that she plotted to evade taxes.

He has also been accused of a conflict of interest because his wife worked for Bettencourt's estate while he was budget minister.

The scandal comes at a delicate time for the right-wing government, which is trying to push through a sweeping pension reform and a freeze on public spending.

© 2010 AFP

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