L'Oreal heiress photographer says he is victim
The celebrity photographer given a billion euros by France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, told AFP that he is a victim caught in a web of scandals that have nothing to do with him.
Francois-Marie Banier, dubbed "photographer to the stars" after shooting the likes of US actor Johnny Depp and Princess Caroline of Monaco, is accused by Bettencourt's daughter of abusing the 87-year-old multi-billionaire's trust.
The court case stemming from that allegation has been adjourned indefinitely, while the 63-year-old Banier says he wants it to be concluded rapidly, with Bettencourt senior having in August cut him out of her will.
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.
Asked in an exclusive interview with AFP whether he sees himself as a victim, Banier said "Yes. I am hostage to three conflicts that are completely beyond me and have nothing to do with me."
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.
Asked whether he regretted accepting the lavish gifts from Bettencourt, Banier replied: "Is Mrs Bettencourt sorry for our 25 years of marvellous relations?"
"These gifts are enormous but people don't realise who large her fortune is. You can't put a price on everything. She gave me money the way others give their time or their body."
Among gifts he received from her were masterpiece paintings including works by Matisse and Mondrian worth 15 million euros (20 million dollars), several cheques and life insurance policies, according to Bettencourt-Meyers.
Banier was Bettencourt's sole legatee in her will drawn up in December 2007, though her daughter still stands to inherit her 30 percent interest in the global cosmetics giant that lies behind her fortune.
"Like all rich people from birth she knows why people want to get close to her and wouldn't she have noticed that with me?" said Banier.
"Money didn't matter and Liliane wanted me to have some. What's wrong with that? For seven years, I refused. Do you know many people who turn down mansions? Today, she wants to keep her distance," he added.
"She's a femme fatale, she does what she wants. But for me, it's only temporary. Between Liliane and me, it will never be completely over."
© 2010 AFP