Bettencourt’s Ex-Butler Charged in Inquiry Over Tapes

The former butler of L’Oreal SA heiress Liliane Bettencourt has been charged with violating her privacy after he secretly recorded her conversations with advisers in an attempt to show they may have been manipulating France’s richest woman.

Pascal Bonnefoy was charged on March 14 with infringing the 89-year-old’s privacy, his lawyer, Antoine Gillot, said in a telephone interview today.

The charges by judges leading the investigation in Bordeaux, France “were predictable given the facts” and Bonnefoy “explained how he did it and why he did it,” Gillot said. “In terms of his guilt, there it’s debatable” as he “did questionable things with the goal of stopping more serious crimes.”

Bonnefoy recorded Bettencourt, daughter of the L’Oreal founder, for a year prior to his departure in May 2010. He then turned the tapes over to Bettencourt’s daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, for use in her pursuit of a photographer friend she accused of taking advantage of her ailing mother for gifts estimated at about 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion). The tapes were leaked and appeared in the press in June 2010, increasing pressure on investigators to advance and expand the case.

Reporters and editors at Le Point magazine and Mediapart, a investigative news website, have been charged or summoned to face charges in the violation-of-privacy probe.

Bonnefoy “might have an idea” how the excerpts wound up in the press, though “it was absolutely not him” who leaked the tapes, Gillot said.

Investigating judges have charged others including photographer Francois-Marie Banier, Patrice de Maistre, Bettencourt’s former financial adviser, and Eric Woerth, former budget minister and treasurer to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, in inquiries stemming from the allegations Bettencourt was duped into giving away money and gifts by her friends and advisors. All deny the accusations.

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