Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the French Lâ€™Oreal hairspray empire and the worldâ€™s wealthiest woman, who was at the centre of a long-running French courtroom sagaover alleged hangers-on who took advantage of her frailty to elicit money and gifts, has died aged 94.
Bettencourt, whose net worth was estimated at about â‚¬33bn (Â£29bn) this year, was the face of one of Franceâ€™s biggest cosmetics conglomerates and had once captured the publicâ€™s imagination as the nationâ€™s poor little rich girl.
She was the daughter of EugÃ¨ne Schueller, a chemist and one-time Nazi sympathiser who made a fortune as the inventor of modern hair dye and founder of Lâ€™OrÃ©al. Her mother died when she was five, leaving her alone with Schueller whose company she inherited.
Bettencourt hit the headlines in 2007 when members of her entourage were charged with exploiting her failing mental health â€“ leading to a vast inquiry that threatened to engulf the then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
When Bettencourtâ€™s husband, the politician AndrÃ© Bettencourt, died in 2007, their daughter FranÃ§oise Bettencourt Meyers, decided to take legal action against her motherâ€™s eccentric best friend, FranÃ§ois-Marie Banier. The dandy photographer, artist and one-time society golden boy was accused of taking advantage of Bettencourtâ€™s frailty to accept almost â‚¬1bn worth of gifts, including paintings, life insurance policies and a salary from Lâ€™Oreal.
Shocked domestic staff at Bettencourtâ€™s mansion west of Paris whispered how the flamboyant Banier would pee in the flowerbeds, lie on Bettencourtâ€™s bed with his shoes on and make requests for money.
Banier denied the allegations, but it was just the start of a multi-layered legal inquiry that became the nationâ€™s soap opera.
The saga resulted in not only a public family feud but a major political scandal and courtroom drama when the investigation was extended to look at whether Sarkozy and other figures in his party had also taken advantage of the elderly Bettencourt, asking for money from her after it was declared that she had dementia.
The money, alleged to have been given in brown envelopes, was said to have funded Sarkozyâ€™s 2007 presidential campaign.
Liliane Bettencourt with FranÃ§ois-Marie Banier in 2004, who was convicted of exploiting her in 2015.
The â€œBettencourt affairâ€ tarnished the latter half of Sarkozyâ€™s presidency, and when he lost the 2012 election he was placed under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and taking advantage of Bettencourt. But the charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence.
In 2015, the photographer Banier was convicted of exploiting Bettencourt and sentenced to three years in jail, fined â‚¬350,000 and ordered to pay â‚¬158m in damages. He appealed and last year received a suspended prison sentence and a fine but did not have to pay the vast damages.
In the meantime, other cases had opened around the affair, including a court case over the publication of secretly recorded conversations between Bettencourt and her wealth manager which were taped when her butler hid a recorder in her mansion.
Bettencourt had been declared unfit to run her own affairs in 2011 after a medical report showing she had suffered from â€œmixed dementiaâ€ and â€œmoderately severeâ€ Alzheimerâ€™s disease since 2006. She was rarely seen in public after leaving the Lâ€™Oreal board in 2012.
â€œLiliane Bettencourt died last night at home,â€ her daughter FranÃ§oise Bettencourt Meyers said in a statement. â€œMy mother left peacefully.â€
-The Guardian UK