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French police detain two over L’Oreal heiress ‘abuse’

Liliane Bettencourt's vast fortune is estimated to be worth more than 16 billion euros (© 2009 AFP)

French police Monday detained L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s ex-lawyer and a businessman for questioning in a probe into allegations of abuse of power, a source close to the matter said.

Police are investigating whether the lawyer, Pascal Wilhelm, and reality TV entrepreneur Stephane Courbit took advantage of the 89-year-old heiress, who last year was placed under guardianship, to secure an investment in Courbit’s LOV Group.

Bettencourt’s former nurse, Alain Thurin, was also detained for questioning, the source said.

The 143-million-euro ($180-million) investment saw Bettencourt buy 20 percent of the group in May 2011, a few months before courts placed her under family guardianship because of her declining mental health.

Wilhelm, who is also Courbit’s lawyer, is alleged to have arranged the transaction for the businessman — an entertainment magnate who launched reality television in France with a local version of the programme “Big Brother”.

Courbit recently told Le Monde newspaper that he was aware of the investment but had not spoken with Bettencourt about it.

Bettencourt, France’s richest woman, was placed under guardianship in October, ending a long legal battle over her vast fortune, estimated to be worth more than 16 billion euros.

Her family, including estranged daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, had long accused advisors of taking advantage of the heiress.

Bettencourt is at the centre of a series of long-standing, overlapping legal inquiries, including one into claims she showered right-wing figures linked with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy with envelopes stuffed with undeclared campaign donations.

Signature : PARIS (AFP)

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