Eight defendants have received prison or fines for fleecing L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. A renowned photographer must repay the frail billionaire 158 million euros, but an ally of Nicolas Sarkozy will walk.
A Bordeaux court meted out fines or jail time to eight of 10 defendants in France's "Bettencourt Affair." In 2011, the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt was found to have had "mixed dementia" and "moderately severe" Alzheimer's disease since 2006 - allowing an entourage of friends and advisers to exploit her for years.
"She found herself at the mercy of men in whom she placed her confidence," Judge Denis Roucou said.
The explosive legal and political drama even dragged in former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The affair had tarnished the latter half of his reign, and when he lost the 2012 election officials placed him under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and taking advantage of Bettencourt, currently the world's 10th-richest person.
Officials dropped the charges against Sarkozy in October 2013, claiming a lack of evidence. Sarkozy has since been investigated for possibly receiving illegal campaign funding from Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator the French president eventually went on to help depose.
An ensemble cast
The court convicted Patrice de Maistre, who oversaw Bettencourt's fortune and received 12 million euros in cash and donations from her, of money laundering and exploitation. He stood accused of getting Bettencourt to hand over cash to members of the then-ruling right-wing UMP party - including his friend and co-defendant Eric Woerth, a former government minister and the campaign treasurer of Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential bid. De Maistre and his successor Pascal Wilhelm received sentences of 30 months in prison, 12 of which were suspended, and fines of 250,000 euros ($275,000), but the trial cleared Woerth of manipulation charges.
The big penalty went to Francois-Marie Banier (pictured), who received three years in prison, six months of which were suspended, and a 350,000-euro fine, plus orders to pay back 158 million euros and have two of his properties confiscated. The 67-year-old photographer - the godfather to the actor Johnny Depp's daughter - was showered with gifts, including paintings by Picasso and Matisse and millions of euros in cash, by Bettencourt after they became close. His partner, Martin d'Orgeval, received 18 months in prison and a 150,000-euro fine for having benefited from the widow's unwitting largesse.
Stephane Courbit was fined 250,000 euros for securing 143 million euros in investments into his business from the widow. For various offenses, Carlos Cassina Vejarano, the former administrator of the Bettencourt family's D'Arros Island, received 18 months in prison, nine of which were suspended.
Two other defendants received lesser penalties. A court will hear the case of Bettencourt's former nurse Alain Thurin at a later date, after he tried to hang himself shortly before the trial began in January.
mkg/msh (EFE, AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)