French judge rejects Bettencourt guardianship request

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A French judge rejected Thursday a request by the daughter of France's richest woman to place her mother under legal guardianship, judicial officials said.

The chief prosecutor at the court in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, rejected the request citing the failure of Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers to produce a medical certificate for her mother, billionaire L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

"In the absence of this document, nothing more can be done," a prosecution source told AFP.

Bettencourt-Meyers made the request for legal guardianship in a letter sent to the chief prosecutor in Nanterre on July 13. It followed a similar request in a separate court in December 2009, which was rejected.

The mental capacity of the 87-year-old Bettencourt is at the centre of a lawsuit brought by her daughter against society photographer Francois-Marie Banier, who is accused of manipulating her into giving him masterpiece paintings, money and insurance policies worth nearly one billion euros (1.29 billion dollars)

Bettencourt has denied that she was manipulated, and accused her daughter of "vile doggedness" and impatience to get her hands on her fortune.

The high-society trial has captivated France and plunged the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy into crisis.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth, a former treasurer of Sarkozy's political party, has been accused of receiving illegal cash donations from Bettencourt.

Reports in June revealed that when Woerth was budget minister and tasked with chasing tax dodgers, his wife Florence worked for the estate of Bettencourt, who is being investigated for alleged tax evasion.

The Nanterre court on July 1 indefinitely adjourned Banier's trial so that judges could examine secret recordings of Bettencourt talking to her aides.

Liliane Bettencourt is the sole heir of L'Oreal, the global shampoo and beauty products company that her father founded. Her current fortune has been estimated at 17 billion euros.

© 2010 AFP

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