L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt loses control of her fortune

Bettencourt declared mentally unfit to run her own affairs and put under family protection

Paris

Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oréal billionaire and France's wealthiest woman, was yesterday declared to be suffering from dementia and placed under the protection of her daughter and grandsons, even though she had described such a scenario as her "worst nightmare".

The court ruling follows a long family quarrel and legal battle between Ms Bettencourt, 89 this week, and her only daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers. The two-year dispute has already spawned a series of lurid judicial and political scandals that have embarrassed President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Bettencourt, whose fortune is estimated to be about €18bn, told a newspaper earlier this month that she would rather die or "go and live abroad" than be placed under the "suffocating" care of her daughter. A court in the Paris suburbs nevertheless decided yesterday that Ms Bettencourt was suffering from a form of Alzheimer's disease and could no longer manage her own affairs. She was made a ward of her eldest grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers, 25, and her fortune, including a majority interest in the cosmetics giant L'Oréal, was placed under the control of her daughter and two grandsons. Ms Bettencourt's lawyers said they would appeal against what they described as a "profoundly disappointing" ruling.

The saga began two years ago when Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers began a legal action to remove her mother from the influence of a photographer, François-Marie Banier. It emerged that Ms Bettencourt had given Mr Banier more than €1bn in art works and life insurance policies.

The dispute appeared to have been resolved amicably last year when Mr Banier agreed to give back most of this and Ms Bettencourt agreed to resume friendly relations with her daughter. But the accord disintegrated. Ms Bettencourt-Meyers brought a new legal case alleging that her mother had fallen under the undesirable influence of her advisers.

The original dispute generated a series of interlocking political and judicial scandals which have acquired a life of their own. Ms Bettencourt was bugged by her own butler, who said that he wanted to gather evidence that she was being swindled.

A lengthy transcript of her private conversations was leaked to the press. It suggested that she might have given illegal campaign funds to politicians, including the 2007 presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy. The Elysée Palace has since been accused of illegally using the French internal security services to spy on journalists to try to block leaks in the Bettencourt affair. The head of the French internal security service, Bernard Squarcini, was placed under formal investigation by a judge yesterday for his alleged part in the affair.

Earlier a court at Courbevoie, west of Paris, received a medical report which suggested that Ms Bettencourt was suffering from "dementia, a moderately severe form of Alzheimer's disease and a slow, degenerative brain condition".

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, Ms Bettencourt said that her "worst nightmare" would to be placed under the control of her daughter. "If that happens, I'm going abroad," she said. "If my daughter was in charge of me, I would suffocate...I would have no more desire to live."

Ms Bettencourt-Meyers' lawyers issued a statement saying the ruling would make no difference to the future of L'Oréal, amid rumours that Nestlé, a major shareholder, would seek to swallow up the company.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific