L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt sells Seychelles island


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The Independent Online

A tiny Indian Ocean island which became a bone of contention in the L'Oréal family feud and political scandal has been sold for €49m to a Saudi philanthropist.

Liliane Bettencourt, 89, heir to the L'Oréal cosmetics fortune and France's richest woman, bought the 2km-long island of D'Arros for €15m in 1998. The buyer is Save our Seas Foundation, controlled by a Saudi, Abdulmohsin al-Sheikh.

In the words of the L'Oréal slogan, he presumably thinks it is "worth it". The foundation, run by two Dutch wildlife photographers, says that it will use the island in the Seychelles group to study the conservation of turtles and sharks.

D'Arros island first came to international attention because of its connection with alleged sharks of the financial rather than maritime kind. Two years ago it emerged that the island had never been declared by Ms Bettencourt to the French tax authorities.

Its existence was revealed in tapes of bugged conversations between Ms Bettencourt, her financial adviser and a photographer. Four people have since been placed under formal investigation by a French magistrate for allegedly abusing the mental weakness of the L'Oréal heiress. They include the photographer, François-Marie Banier, who is alleged to have received over €1bn in "gifts" from Ms Bettencourt, including – at one point – the island.

The tapes also revealed apparent illegal cash payments by Ms Bettencourt and her husband (since deceased) to the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. The alleged payments are the subject of a separate judicial investigation which could lead to legal action against the former president.

The so-called Bettencourt scandal began when Liliane's only child, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, brought a legal action complaining that her mother's mental weakness was being abused by Mr Banier and others. Ms Bettencourt has since been placed under the legal guardianship of her daughter and two grandsons. The Seychelles government said that the island had been sold to the Save our Seas Foundation for $60m (€49m) plus $10.5m for stamp duty and other taxes.