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OBITUARY

Liliane Bettencourt: World’s richest woman who was beset by legal drama dies aged 94

French tycoon Liliane Bettencourt, the world's richest woman, died on Wednesday aged 94. She sat atop the L'Oreal empire but faced an old age clouded by dementia and legal drama, not to mention her father's Nazi links.

Liliane Bettencourt: World's richest woman who was beset by legal drama dies aged 94
Photo: AFP

French tycoon Liliane Bettencourt, the world's richest woman, sat atop the L'Oreal empire and ran a philanthropic foundation,
but faced an old age clouded by dementia and legal drama.

Bettencourt, who died late on Wednesday at the age of 94, was the main shareholder in the world's top cosmetics company L'Oreal, with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in March at $39.5 billion (33 billion euros).

“Liliane Bettencourt died last night at home,” her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers said in a statement. “My mother left peacefully.”

“We all had a deep admiration for Liliane Bettencourt, who… was committed to (L'Oreal's) success and its development,” L'Oreal CEO Jean-Paul Agon said in a statement.

Bettencourt was rarely seen in public after leaving the L'Oreal board in 2012, but her name remained in the headlines as members of her entourage were charged with exploiting her failing mental health.

Bettencourt had been declared unfit to run her own affairs in 2011 after a medical report showing she had suffered from “mixed dementia” and “moderately severe” Alzheimer's disease since 2006.

The complex legal case involved a bitter feud with her only daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, as well as unscrupulous friends, and even dragged in former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

In 2008 Bettencourt-Meyers, who is on the L'Oreal board, filed a lawsuit against her mother over funds the magnate had given to a celebrity photographer and confidant.

Liliane Bettencourt insisted at the time that she was in perfect health.

Eight members of Bettencourt's entourage were convicted in May 2015 of fleecing her, including photographer Francois-Marie Banier, who was given a four-year suspended prison sentence on appeal.

Patrice de Maistre, who managed Bettencourt's vast fortune, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, 12 of which were suspended, and a fine of 250,000 euros.

Envelopes of cash

De Maistre was accused of getting Bettencourt to hand over envelopes of cash to members of Sarkozy's rightwing party during his 2007 presidential campaign.

The charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence.

Bettencourt was born Liliane Schueller on October 21, 1922, in Paris, where her father Eugene Schueller was marketing an early hair dye formula he had invented in 1907.

Schueller, the son of bakers from the eastern Alsace region, initially named his company Aureale, but changed it to L'Oreal in 1939.

Liliane, who had lost her mother when she was five years old, adored her father, whom she liked to say “taught me the meaning of hard work.”

The product of a strict Catholic upbringing, she started helping out with the company at age 15, sticking labels on bottles of shampoo and mixing cosmetics.

Controversy over Nazi links
 
She was, however, no stranger to controversy.
 
Both her father and her husband Andre Bettencourt were accused of being ardent Nazi collaborators during World War II.
 
Her husband, who died in 2007, had been a member of a French fascist group during the war but sought forgiveness from the Jewish community in its aftermath.
 
In addition to playing a key role in L'Oreal, Andre Bettencourt later served as a government minister under president Charles de Gaulle.
 
Inheriting the L'Oreal fortune from her father in 1957, Liliane Bettencourt chose not to be directly involved in running it.
 
Bettencourt long enjoyed the company of artists, and her Bettencourt-Schueller foundation funded a range of films and art projects over the years, in addition to medical research and literacy projects.
 
L'Oreal is one of the world's biggest cosmetics group with nearly 90,000 employees in 140 countries and sales of 25.84 billion euros in 2016.
 
In addition to the L'Oreal Paris and Maybelline New York mass-market brands, the group also markets luxury cosmetics under brands such as Lancome, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani.
 
L'Oreal also owns The Body Shop.

OBITUARY

French billionaire Serge Dassault dies aged 93

One of France's richest men, Serge Dassault, died on Monday after suffering a suspected heart attack, his family said. He was 93.

French billionaire Serge Dassault dies aged 93
Serge Dassault. Photo: AFP
Dassault, head of aviation, media and software giant Dassault Group, was a titan of the French business world who served as a right-wing senator and a scandal-plagued mayor of a town south of the capital.
   
France's third wealthiest person in 2016 — with a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine at $14.8 billion (12.7 billion euros) — died in his Paris office on the Champs-Elysees on Monday afternoon, his family said.
   
Dassault is best known as the principal stakeholder of Dassault Aviation, which has made a series of famed French planes, including the Falcon business jet, the Mirage fighter and the country's most cutting-edge military jet, the Rafale.
 
“France has a lost a man who dedicated his life to developing a jewel of French industry,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that came amid a flurry of tributes. 
   
Nicolas Sarkozy, whom Dassault strongly backed when as France's president, paid tribute to a “friend” who he said was a “visionary able to anticipate the 
world to come without losing the meaning of the present.”
   
Dassault, a workaholic who is survived by four children and his wife Nicole, also owned France's biggest-selling right-wing newspaper, Le Figaro.
 
Serge Dassault (C) with Nicolas Sarkozy (R) in 2005. Photo: AFP
 
Wealth from war
 
The Dassault family's business empire was founded by his father Marcel, an aeronautical engineer and celebrated inventor who developed a propeller used in French planes during World War I. 
   
Marcel survived the Buchenwald death camp during World War II after being sent there by occupying Nazi forces because he refused to put his skills at their disposal.
 
Arrested along with the rest of his family by the Gestapo as a teenager, Serge narrowly avoided deportation and would go on to pursue studies at elite French universities before entering the family business in his twenties.
   
He finally succeeded his father after his death in 1986, taking the helm of the family group at the age of 61 when most people are thinking of retiring.
   
Defying opposition from the French government, which doubted that he was up to the task, he developed Dassault at a time of consolidation in the European 
aerospace industry and severe competition from US manufacturers. 
   
The Rafale plane, in use in the skies above Iraq and most recently during French strikes on chemical weapons installations in Syria, is considered one of the world's most advanced fighter jets.
 
Photo: AFP
 
Scandals and corruption
 
As well as his business interests, Dassault pursued a political career like his father — leading to scandal.
 
In February this year, he was convicted of tax fraud for hiding millions of euros in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Virgin Islands.
 
Dassault was spared jail because of his advanced age, but he was fined two million euros and barred from holding elected office for five years. 
   
In April 2014, he was also charged with vote-buying, complicity in illegal election campaign financing and exceeding campaign spending limits over his terms as mayor in the Parisian suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes.
   
The case revealed a shocking series of allegations including extortion, cash circulating in plastic bags and even shootings. 
   
Dassault, a social conservative who once called gay marriage “an enormous danger to the country”, was mayor of the town from 1995 to 2009. 
   
In 1998, Dassault received a two-year suspended prison sentence in Belgium for bribing members of the country's Socialist Party to win an army helicopter contract in what became known as the Agusta scandal.
   
His death will lead to speculation over who in the family will succeed him as head of his company.
   
His son Olivier is a rightwing lawmaker in parliament but Dassault has had often strained relations with his offspring — again like his father Marcel who was often harsh with his sons.
   
“When I started in the company I sensed that it irritated him,” Dassault once said of his father in an interview with VSD magazine.
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