Sarkozy and the secret tapes: more twists in L'Oreal scandal

France's convoluted L'Oréal family fraud scandal became even more convoluted and even more gripping yesterday. Tapes of bugged conversations involving the L'Oréal owner, Liliane Bettencourt, 87, implied that President Nicolas Sarkozy had meddled in legal proceedings in which a society photographer is accused of defrauding France's richest woman of almost a billion euros.

The tapes, leaked to a French investigative website, also suggest that the supposedly senile billionairess was involved in elaborate schemes to hide some of her money abroad. There are cryptic references to campaign payments to ensure the "friendship" of two cabinet ministers, including the employment minister, Eric Woerth.

Ms Bettencourt's former butler was arrested yesterday and faces charges of "invasion of privacy", for allegedly bugging conversations between the L'Oréal heiress and her financial adviser. He has not been named. Tapes of the conversations were sent last week to Ms Bettencourt's only daughter, Françoise, who sent them to the police.

Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers brought a legal action last year for fraud and abuse of "weakness" of mind against François-Marie Banier, 54, a jet-set photographer who befriended her mother 15 years ago. The case, in which Mr Banier is accused of receiving almost €1bn in cash, paintings and life insurance policies from the elderly woman, will be heard in two weeks' time.

A former butler of Ms Bettencourt is alleged to have secretly made the tapes over the last year in an act of revenge, after she fired other staff members who cooperated with investigators. Ms Bettencourt-Meyers' lawyer, Olivier Metzner – a star of the French bar, also involved in the case of the trader Jerome Kerviel – has rejected suggestions that the bugging was carried out at the request of Mrs Bettencourt's daughter. She received the tapes anonymously, he said, and immediately gave them to the police.

The tapes are of conversations over the last 12 months between Ms Bettencourt and her financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre. In one tape, allegedly recorded in April this year, he tells her that he recently met President Sarkozy's legal adviser, Patrick Ouart. Mr Sarkozy is a friend of the Bettencourt family and a former mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the wealthy ghetto on the western border of Paris where both mother and daughter live.

"[Ouart] wanted to see me the other day and he said 'M de Maistre, the President is continuing to follow [the Bettencourt trial] very closely. In the first hearing, there is nothing more we can do, but if you lose and it goes to appeal, we know the chief prosecutor very, very well.'"

In another bugged conversation, Mr de Maistre urges the billionairess to give campaign contributions of the €7,000 maximum to two cabinet ministers because "we need friends". One of the ministers is Mr Woerth, whose wife works in Ms Bettencourt's private office. The minister denied any knowledge of the payment yesterday but said that "anyone" could contribute to his campaign funds.

At the end of the taped conversation about campaign payments, Ms Bettencourt asks: "And Nicolas Sarkozy?" Her financial adviser replies: "That's taken care of. He knows about it."

Liliane Bettencourt owns one-third of the shares of L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant whose slogan is "Because you're worth it". She is the second wealthiest person in France and one of the 10 wealthiest women in the world.

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: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

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'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
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
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral