The Bettencourt affair involves allegations of illegal payments made by billionaire heiress Liliane Bettencourt to François-Marie Banier and members of the French government associated with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.
In June 2010, Ms. Bettencourt became embroiled in a high-level French political scandal after other details of the tape recordings made by her butler became public. The tapes allegedly picked up conversations between Bettencourt and her financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre, which indicate that Bettencourt may have avoided paying taxes by keeping a substantial amount of cash in undeclared Swiss bank accounts. The tapes also allegedly captured a conversation between Bettencourt and Éric Woerth (then Minister of Labour), who was soliciting a job for his wife managing Bettencourt’s wealth, while he was acting as budget minister and running a high-profile campaign to catch wealthy tax evaders. Moreover, Ms Bettencourt received a €30 million tax rebate while Mr Woerth was budget minister.
In July 2010, the scandal appeared to widen after Bettencourt’s former accountant, Claire Thibout, alleged in an interview with the French investigative web-site Mediapart, that conservative French politicians were frequently given envelopes stuffed with cash at the Bettencourt’s mansion in Neuilly-sur-Seine. She alleged that Mr Woerth, while acting as treasurer for the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), was given an envelope containing €150,000 in cash in March 2007 towards the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy. Following these allegations, French police raided the home and office of Mr de Maistre, who heads Clymène, the company owned by Ms Bettencourt to manage her wealth. Political donations are limited to €7,500 for political parties and €4,600 for individuals. Contributions above €150 must be paid by cheque with the donor clearly identified.
In 2013, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a former minister, Éric Woerth, a prosecutor, Philippe Courroye and the former director of the DCRI, Bernard Squarcini, were targeted by a procedure of indictment in diverse points of the affair.
On October 7, 2013, French authorities removed Sarkozy from the list of names to be charged in the case.
In 2015 François-Marie Banier was convicted of 'abuse of weakness' of Liliane Bettincourt, prosecutor Gérard Aldigé stating he had "imposed his control over her like a spider spinning its web. And once he had her in his net, he never let her go. She became his thing. He dealt with her like a vampire." Banner was sentenced to two and a half years prison, and ordered to pay €158 million in damages to Liliane Bettencourt. Seven other defendants, including Liliane Bettencourt’s financial advisor, lawyer, and notary, were also convicted and given lesser sentences. Banier appealed. The second trial, which concluded in May 2016, upheld the conviction, but suspended the prison sentence and canceled the damages.
- Butler’s tapes threaten Sarkozy, The Globe and Mail, 7 July 2010. Accessed 7 July 2010.
- Can Sarkozy Survive the Bettencourt Scandal?, Vanity Fair, 6 July 2010. Accessed 7 July 2010.
- French police search home of Bettencourt's adviser, BBC, 9 July 2010. Accessed 9 July 2010.
- Nicolas Sarkozy at centre of criminal investigation over 'illegal donations', Daily Telegraph, 7 July 2010. Accessed 7 July 2010.
- Heiress' accountant claims cash destined for Sarkozy, CNN, 6 July 2010. Accessed 7 July 2010.
- AFP (30 December 2011). "Un journaliste du Point travaillant sur l'affaire Bettencourt se fait voler son ordinateur". lavoixdunord.fr.
- Jim Jarrassé (27 October 2010). "Bettencourt : trois médias victimes de cambriolages". Le Figaro.fr.
- Bettencourt affair: Sarkozy secret cash case 'dropped', BBC, 7 October 2013. Accessed 28 January 2014
- Tom Sancton, The Death Of The Worlds Richest Woman and the End of the Bettencourt Affair, Vanity Fair, 22 September 2017