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Bettencourt Adviser Arrested as Friends Questioned on Gifts

Liliane Bettencourt’s former financial adviser was arrested today for questioning in an investigation into whether those close to the L’Oreal SA heiress took advantage of her diminished mental capacity.

Patrice de Maistre was arrested and taken to a Paris-area prison to be held before being transferred to Bordeaux, his lawyers said today in an e-mailed statement.

The arrest was “coercive, destabilizing and upsetting,” the lawyers, Jacqueline Laffont and Pierre Haik, said. De Maistre had written to the investigators offering to come in voluntarily, making the arrest “singularly unjustified.”

Photographer Francois-Marie Banier and Martin d’Orgeval were arrested at their home in Paris on Dec. 12 and spent two nights in a Paris jail before being brought to Bordeaux today and charged. Judge Jean-Michel Gentil is leading the investigation into whether members of Bettencourt’s entourage exploited of the 89-year-old.

Banier was charged with fraud, abuse of trust, abuse of frailty, money laundering and receipt of stolen goods, Bordeaux prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement. D’Orgeval was charged with abuse of frailty, money laundering and receipt of stolen goods.

Bettencourt was declared mentally unfit in October by a judge who appointed her daughter and two grandsons to oversee her financial affairs. Her lawyers are meeting with a judge in Versailles, near Paris, today in a closed-door appeal to downgrade the guardianship to a lesser level of protection.

Bettencourt and her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, have been engaged in a longstanding feud over whether gifts to Banier and others were the product of generosity or coercion.

Banier’s lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille declined to comment. Bettencourt lawyer Jean-Rene Farthouat didn’t immediately return calls for comment.

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