THE financial adviser to the L’Oreal cosmetics heiress at the centre of a French government financial scandal was taken in for questioning by prosecutors yesterday.
Patrice de Maistre, who worked for 87-year-old Liliane Bettencourt, was being held in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Bettencourt’s former tax lawyer Fabrice Goguel and the manager of an island in the Seychelles that she owns, Carles Vejarano, were also being held for questioning, an official said.
So too was celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier, accused by Bettencourt’s daughter of cheating her mother out of €1 billion in gifts.
They were being questioned as part of a preliminary investigation into Bettencourt’s finances, including suspicions of tax evasion. She is France’s richest woman and one of the country’s biggest taxpayers.
Bettencourt’s finances have been at the centre of a political storm that includes claims that she gave money illegally to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party during his 2007 election campaign. Sarkozy and his party’s treasurer have denied the claims.
Bettencourt is seeking an independent audit of her finances to defend herself against accusations that she is being manipulated by friends and advisers.
Bettencourt, who is in a legal dispute with her daughter, said yesterday that she ordered an audit of three companies that handle her finances to show that she knows “perfectly how to manage” her family’s affairs.
The tax scandal has embarrassed the government because the wife of Labour Minister Eric Woerth worked for a company handling Bettencourt’s finances.
Until March, Woerth was budget minister, leading a high-profile crackdown on tax dodgers.
The couple denied any conflict of interest, and a French financial inspection agency has said Woerth did not intervene in Bettencourt’s tax files.
The investigation by prosecutors stemmed from secret recordings made by one of Bettencourt’s former butlers.
In alleged excerpts of the recordings, financial adviser Maistre tells Bettencourt he is thinking about transferring money out of accounts in Switzerland to Singapore, Hong Kong or Uruguay, noting that French tax authorities are cracking down on people with Swiss bank accounts.
Once the recordings became public, Maistre acknowledged that Bettencourt had €78 million in two foreign accounts, and he promised to get her affairs in order.
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