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Bettencourt Affair Erupts Anew

Letter suggests heiress plans to revoke peace accord with her daughter.

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PARIS — The war between L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter seems to be taking on nuclear proportions.

According to an article published in Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche, Bettencourt — in a letter dated Friday — has asked her lawyer Jean-René Farthouat to revoke the accord she and her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, reached on Dec. 6, in which they agreed to abandon all legal proceedings Bettencourt Meyers had initiated in the Bettencourt affair, among other points.

Neither Farthouat nor Bettencourt’s spokeswoman could be reached for comment Sunday.

The Bettencourt saga began  as a family feud in December 2007, when Bettencourt Meyers brought a lawsuit against photographer François-Marie Banier. She alleged Banier exploited the weakness of now 88-year-old Bettencourt, who gave him assets valued at about 1 billion euros, or $1.34 billion at current exchange. But by summer 2010, the Bettencourt affair had spilled over into the government arena.

Despite the cease-fire 10 months ago, sparks have been flaring at the risk of heating up the affair again. Just last week, for instance, daily newspaper Libération published an interview with Claire Thibout, Bettencourt’s former accountant, in which she reiterated allegations of illegal campaign funding while Nicolas Sarkozy was running for France’s president.

Along with Bettencourt demanding the accord with her daughter be revoked, she is also cited as telling her lawyer she wants him to take legal action — including criminal procedure — to end “the harassment to which I am victim.” Bettencourt reportedly wrote, as well, “I request, lastly, that you start up a lawsuit to cancel the donations granted to my daughter for ingratitude.”

According to the JDD, that would include the shares in L’Oréal (worth about 15 billion euros, or $20.08 billion).

Bettencourt’s lawyers are said to be taking time for consideration before possibly taking legal steps. If, in fact, Bettencourt’s requests are ultimately reviewed and accepted by a French judge, there would be immediate financial consequences for Bettencourt Meyers and ultimately her husband’s position as managing director of the Bettencourt family holding company Téthys — which oversees its 31 percent stake in L’Oréal, making it the largest individual shareholder in the French beauty giant — would be in danger, the paper wrote.

As reported, on June 7 Bettencourt Meyers and her sons contacted the guardianship judge in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie to grant Bettencourt a measure of judicial protection, since she believes her mother remains prey to people looking to profit from her ill health, particularly Pascal Wilhelm, the lawyer appointed to manage Bettencourt’s affairs. A meeting before the guardianship judge is set on the subject for Tuesday, according to the JDD.

Bettencourt Meyers had sought guardianship protection for her mother numerous times before during the Bettencourt affair.

There are also reportedly legal proceedings under way in Bordeaux, France, concerning abuse of weakness related to Bettencourt, based on a medical report.

The criminal cases that originally sprang from the Bettencourt scandal were transferred to Bordeaux from the Paris suburb of Nanterre last November in the interest of securing a fairer hearing.

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