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France

Trial to open for 10 accused of exploiting ageing L’Oreal heiress

media L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt photographed in Paris on 12, October 2011. AFP PHOTO PIERRE VERDY

Ten people accused of taking advantage of cosmetics billionaire Liliane Bettencourt will go on trial on Monday in what is slated to be one of the year’s biggest courtroom dramas.

Those standing trial, who include a politician close to former president Nicolas Sarkozy, are accused of receiving large amounts of money from the elderly heiress of L’Oreal.

The scandal first erupted in 2007, when Liliane Bettencourt’s daughter, Francoise, questioned the amount of money her mother, who is now 92, was giving to artist and photographer François-Marie Banier.

A close friend to France’s richest woman, Banier received over 400 million euros worth of gifts, including paintings by Picasso and Matisse, millions in cash and made him her sole heir.

Forbes magazines estimates Bettencourt is worth some 33 billion euros.

The scandal mushroomed after police tapped into Bettencourt’s phone as they were investigating why Banier had been showered with gifts.

It was then revealed that other people – including Eric Woerth, the treasurer of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign, who now faces five years in prison – were potentially taking advantage of the heiress in a similar vein.

Sarkozy was also embroiled in the scandal, but charges against him were dropped in 2013.

Patrice de Maistre, the man in charge of managing Bettencourt’s fortune is also accused of pocketing several millions and has been charged with money laundering.

A large part of the case rests on testimony from Claire Thibout, Bettencourt’s accountant.

However, the case took a turn when Thibout was charged with lying after Banier and Maistre lodged the accusations.

Defense teams are hoping to use this twist to delay the trial, which is expected to last five weeks.

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