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BETTENCOURT’S NEW PROFILE: For someone who’s stayed out of the limelight for most of her 86 years, Liliane Bettencourt has been something of a media fixture over the past couple of weeks.
Most recently, an investment apparently made by the L’Oréal heiress (who is routinely described as France’s wealthiest woman) has taken center stage.
Bettencourt reportedly entrusted part of her fortune to Bernard Madoff through Access International Advisors, according to Bloomberg News. Access International’s co-founder, Thierry Magnon de la Villehuchet, was found dead in an apparent suicide on Tuesday in his Manhattan office. Access International reportedly oversaw a total fund of $3 billion, with $1.4 billion in assets as of Nov. 17. Bettencourt has a fortune estimated at 17 billion euros, or $23.74 billion at current exchange.
The affects of the Madoff affair have rippled across Europe, with designer Daniel Hechter, the Recamier family of Louis Vuitton fame and the Principality of Monaco being among the myriad of entities reportedly impacted.
The three parties either couldn’t be reached or had no comment Friday. Meanwhile, no one at the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller, which Bettencourt founded, could be reached for comment about the news reports, and L’Oréal continued to maintain a low profile Wednesday with the following statement: “This is strictly a private affair for the Bettencourt family and in no way concerns L’Oréal. We have no further comment on the subject.”
Bettencourt’s relationship with her daughter has also recently entered the public domain. As reported in the French press over a week ago, Bettencourt said she no longer desires to see her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers. That’s because her daughter lodged a complaint for “exploitation of weakness” with the public prosecutor’s office of Nanterre, a Paris suburb, following Bettencourt reportedly giving photographer François-Marie Banier gifts of approximately 1 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, in the form of financial investments and artwork over the years (with the rate of gift-giving ramping up recently). “What I gave to François-Marie Banier, while significant, is not very high in proportion [to what I have],” Bettencourt was quoted as saying. Referring to her 30 percent holding in the French beauty giant, she explained, “I gave my entire participation in L’Oréal in bare ownership to my daughter, who will have everything after my death. I find this matter quite idiotic, it’s a waste of energy.” Bettencourt added, “I don’t see my daughter anymore and don’t desire to.”
The family feud and alleged loss through Madoff raises the question of whether Bettencourt will sell her stake in L’Oréal once its shareholder agreement expires on April 29. Some industry observers believe Nestlé, which has a 28.9 percent share in the beauty firm, would like to take L’Oréal over.
Meanwhile, L’Oréal stock remained unaffected by a possible Bettencourt-Madoff link Wednesday, when it closed up 1.21 percent to 62.11 euros, or $86.73.