L'Oreal clan make up to end €1bn legal feud

France's richest woman and her daughter have resolved a protracted legal dispute over more than €1 billion that swelled into a national scandal and raised questions about the future of the family fortune.

• Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter, Franoise Bettencourt Meyers have reconciled Picture: Getty

L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt, 88, and her daughter, Franoise Bettencourt Meyers, have reconciled, lawyer Olivier Metzner said yesterday. He added: "We are bringing an end to all procedures given this familial reunion."

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In a joint statement with her daughter, Ms Bettencourt said: "The decision that Franoise and I have taken offers me hope. It meets my wish to see the family united. We can now embrace the future together."

Ms Bettencourt Meyers had publicly accused photographer Francois-Marie Banier of abusing her mother's alleged mental frailty and abusing her trust to milk Liliane Bettencourt out of €1bn (about 84.7m) in cash, works of art and other gifts. Mr Banier, a long-term friend of Ms Bettencourt, has insisted he did not take advantage of her, but the dispute prompted a string of legal cases.

Mr Metzner said the photographer "has renounced many of the benefits he received. And we are renouncing any procedure regarding him."

The photographer's lawyer confirmed an agreement was signed, but provided no details.

The peace pact brings unexpected resolution to a case that dominated headlines for several weeks earlier this year, and even embroiled president Nicolas Sarkozy and his government.

The feud erupted into a political affair over leaks by former Bettencourt employees about how the heiress was managing the family's fortune, and led to claims of tax evasion and illegal financing of Mr Sarkozy's conservative party.

Police questioned the former treasurer of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party - then labour minister Eric Woerth - in July amid allegations that he received funds from Ms Bettencourt to illegally finance Mr Sarkozy's election campaign. Mr Woerth denied the allegations. Mr Sarkozy called the claims a smear campaign.

As the mother-daughter dispute escalated, Ms Bettencourt raised questions about the future of the world's biggest cosmetics company once her daughter inherits it.

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Ms Bettencourt Meyers, meanwhile, had sought to have her mother declared mentally incompetent. Last month, a judge ordered Liliane Bettencourt to undergo examination by three doctors meant to determine her mental and physical health.

Ms Bettencourt is Europe's richest woman according to Forbes, with a fortune estimated at €15bn, and is one of France's biggest taxpayers.

She called yesterday's agreement "a source of hope". Her daughter said it "allows us at last to rediscover family harmony".

Both women professed their personal attachment to L'Oreal, founded by Ms Bettencourt's chemist father Eugene Schueller a century ago.

The reconciliation paves the way for Ms Bettencourt's daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons to "play their part in the incarnation of the family business," said Pascal Wilhelm, a lawyer for the elder heiress, on France-Info radio.

He said both women want the new "family serenity" to boost the fortunes of L'Oreal as a company. The reconciliation should allow Liliane Bettencourt "her freedom to live as she wishes", he added, without elaborating.

The Bettencourt family currently has a 31 per cent stake in the cosmetics giant.

The photographer has only seen Ms Bettencourt once in the last six months, his lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille, said on France-Info radio.

"There is no more Bettencourt affair," he said.