Bettencourt butler bites back: 'I saw L'Oréal family destroyed'

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'I had to protect myself from these people'

Bonnefoy was first employed by Liliane and her late husband André in 1989. Apart from a five-year break between 1993 and 1998, he served the household until his dismissal in May 2010, which he told police was the result of "witch hunt" by Banier.

"This began after the complaint filed against Monsieur Banier by Madame Françoise Meyers [Liliane's daughter] and the statements1 given to police by Madame Bettencourt's employees," he said.

I was personally never questioned by police but, very soon, Monsieur Banier led Madame Bettencourt to believe that I had testified against her and against him. He never told me this to my face, but I learned about it upon a return from d'Arros2, when Madame Bettencourt displayed her discontent with me and ignored me. I no longer existed. I learned from other employees of Madame that I was supposed to have testified before the judicial police."

 

M. Owen-Jones © Reuters M. Owen-Jones © Reuters

 

Bonnefoy said he decided to request a meeting to discuss the matter with his mistress, who was referred to as "Madame" by all the household staff. "From memory, this discussion was held around February 2009, in the presence of her nurse. I clearly understood that, whatever my explanations, something was broken. She was tired and I did not insist any further in defending myself."

Bonnefoy told police how, the following day, L'Oréal chairman Sir Lyndsay Owen-Jones also became involved, during a visit by the British businessman to the Bettencourt mansion. "Monsieur Owen-Jones, very uncomfortable, asked me, in the presence of Madame Bettencourt, to confirm to him whether I had or not testified against Madame. I confirmed to him what I had told Madame Bettencourt. The discussion lasted a minute and I left the room."

That was when Bonnefoy says he decided to take action before what he foresaw would be imminent reprisals.

"I felt very wounded and I told myself that I had to protect myself from these people, and I decided, as a means of defence to make some audio recordings," Bonnefoy told the police. "Over a period of one year, from May 2009 to May 2010, I regularly placed a digital Dictaphone behind Madame Bettencourt's armchair, in some felt, the armchair situated in Madame Bettencourt's office where she held her appointments with her wealth manager [Patrice de Maistre] and other business meetings. I chose the meetings with Monsieur de Maistre, [Monsieur] Normand [Bettencourt's notary, or solicitor], [Monsieur] Goguel [Bettencourt's fiscal affairs lawer]. I later had these recordings cut [on a disk] by Monsieur Philippe Dunand."

Dunand, a computer engineer, is the partner of Claire Thibout, a former accountant to Liliane Bettencourt.3

 

M. de Maistre © Reuters M. de Maistre © Reuters

 

"I did that so that no-one could say the recordings had been interfered with," Bonnefoy told police. "I [wish to] also make clear that I had the entire contents cut. When the first Dictaphone was full-up, I took a second."

After his contract was ended on May 31st, the butler had already collected about 20 hours of recordings. "I gave it a lot of thought and after listening to the recordings, as they happened, and given the climate in this household, I contacted Madame Meyers [Liliane's daughter Françoise] to give her all of the CD-Roms. That's what I did during an appointment at her home, on May 17th or 18th."

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1: Statements given during the initial preliminary enquiries into Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers complaint against François Marie Banier.

2: The Seychelles island d'Arros was bought by André and Liliane Bettencourt in 1999. It is at the centre of the tax fraud allegations arising from the conversations secretly-recorded by Bonnefoy, notably because it is apparently owned and managed by a mysterious Liechtenstein-based foundation. At the time of publication, the precise ownership structure remains a mystery.

3: Claire Thibout, who was employed as an accountant for Liliane Bettencourt over a period of 13 years, has also testified against the billionaire's entourage, and notably alleged - firstly in an interview with Mediapart - that the Bettencourt household funded French politicians with significant cash donations. In particular, she has alleged that she was asked to prepare a cash sum of 150,000 euros destined for President Nicolas Sarkozy's former campaign fund manager, now labour minister, Eric Woerth.

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The Bettencourt affair is not simply a family feud that pitches France's richest woman against her daughter. Ever since Mediapart's initial revelations of the scandal, it became an affair that engulfed labour minister, and ex-budget minister, Eric Woerth. It carries serious questions about the role of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and has thus become an affair of state.

Mediapart has now compiled its extensive reports about the affair into one explanatory and detailed book, L'Affaire Bettencourt, un scandale d'Etat, ('The Bettencourt affair, a scandal of state'), currently available only in French, and published on October 7th, 2010 by Don Quichotte.