How the Bettencourt scandal began and ended in a trial of freedom of the press


Seven years after the revelation of the so-called “Bettencourt affair”, the tentacular scandal of corruption, fraud, tax evasion, conflicts of interest and political funding centred on the entourage of Liliane Bettencourt, heiress of the L’Oréale cosmectics giant, those who exposed the crimes committed against the dementia-suffering billionaire were tried by a Bordeaux appeal court last month for invasion of privacy. They are Bettencourt’s butler, who secretly recorded compromising conversations of those who were swindling his employer, and Mediapart and weekly magazine Le Point which published the contents of the tapes. Mediapart publishing editor Edwy Plenel explains here the history of an absurd legal procedure led by a public prosecutor’s office that has never accepted an initial court ruling that threw out the case on the grounds of the press’s duty to inform and the public’s right to know.

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Since 2010, according to the records of Mediapart’s lawyers, Jean-Pierre Mignard and Emmanuel Tordjman, we have been the subject of legal proceedings led, in succession, by a total of no less than 43 magistrates over our reporting of the so-called “Bettencourt affair”, which centred on the nefarious activities of the entourage of L’Oréal cosmetics firm heiress Liliane Bettencourt (see here  and here).  Over a period of seven years, and before both civil and criminal courts, Mediapart has been required to justify itself for having simply carried out its professional duties, those of reporting issues of public interest, and at the service of the public’s right to know.