AFP – A French tax lawyer was charged Friday with swindling the country’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, by getting her to hand over a private island in the Seychelles to him.
A source said Fabrice Goguel, who also heads the Foundation for Ecological balance, was suspected of abusing 89-year-old Bettencourt’s “frailty, as well as fraud and abuse of confidence.”
Bettencourt bought D’Arros Island in the Indian Ocean archipelago along with several neighbouring islets for $18 million in 1998.
Investigators say Goguel persuaded Bettencourt, who attracted the attention of French tax authorities, to hand over the island to his Liechtenstein-based foundation and give it 20 million euros ($25 million).
The island was earlier owned by Iran’s prince Shahram Pahlavi-Nia, the nephew of the last Shah of Iran from whom she bought it.
Bettencourt had stipulated that if the foundation failed in its mission, it would make certain “donations” to her friends, including French celebrity photographer Jean-Marie Banier, who is also accused of exploiting her.
According to experts, Bettencourt’s mental faculties started weakening in 2006. She was placed under guardianship last year ending a long legal battle over her vast fortune, estimated to be worth more than 16 billion euros.
Her family, including estranged daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, had long accused advisors of taking advantage of the heiress.
Goguel’s lawyer Jean Gonthier told AFP that his client took the line that he had committed no trangressions on the “legal, moral or ethical” fronts.
“He scrupulously executed the missions that Mrs Bettencourt charged him with,” he said.