French L`Oreal heiress denounces daughter`s legal battle

Paris: L`Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt denounced her daughter on television Wednesday amid a legal battle that has set off a financial probe drawing in the highest levels of French government.

Bettencourt, France`s richest woman, was attacking a renewed bid by her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, to have a judge declare her incompetent to manage her own affairs.

Her daughter has alleged that her 87-year-old mother is subject to the undue influence of photographer Francois-Marie Banier, to whom she has given gifts worth nearly a billion euros.

"I am at once pained and vexed for I say to myself how, after so many years, someone who has lived close to me has such petty reactions at that," Bettencourt told France 3 television.

Denouncing her daughter`s "vile doggedness," she said: "My daughter could have waited patiently for my death instead of doing all she can to precipitate it."

Bettencourt also said she had asked her financial adviser to launch an "independent audit" of the companies that manage her wealth.

The octogenarian heiress said her daughter was surrounded by a bad circle who were provoking her against her mother and said she was being subjected to repeated "harrasment."

Her daughter first tried to have her declared incompetent in December 2009. The judge refused in the absence of a medical expertise, something to which Bettencourt has so refused to submit.

French police from the financial crimes unit on Monday searched seven homes and offices including that of a friend of Bettencourt.

Later Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared on television to try to defuse a scandal over allegations that Bettencourt made illegal donations to his 2007 campaign through his fundraiser and now labour minister Eric Woerth.

Woerth has strenuously denied the allegations and Sarkozy has suggested they are part of a smear campaign.

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.

Florence Woerth has since stepped down from her post linked to the Bettencourt fortune.

Bettencourt-Meyers` lawyers made their latest bid on the basis of the contents of illegal recordings of conversations between Bettencourt and her entourage, which the French media made public in June.

The recording showed that Bettencourt was "in a position of danger," Bettencourt-Meyer`s lawyer Olivier Metzner told French radio station France Info.

Bettencourt`s lawyer George Kiejman dismissed that interpretation as a "serious distortion".

In a written statement to AFP he said he had just spent three days with his client in Brittany and that she was "in as good a form physically and intellectually that a women of her age can be."

A French court on July 1 indefinitely adjourned Banier`s trial on charges of exploiting Bettencourt`s alleged weakness so that judges could examine the 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 (20 billion dollars).

Bureau Report