My Paris Stories
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"The man to shoot"

After all, it’s Christmas soon, and even the most obstinate characters weaken when the candles are lit.

Mother and daughter are on speaking terms again. Olivier Metzner, the lawyer of the daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, officially declared that all legal action would be dropped – which is news that even President Sarkozy definitely will appreciate.

Honestly, I’m happy for the Bettencourts. They are so inconceivably rich (Liliane has 20 billion dollars plus more than a 30-percent-stake in L’Oreal) but they’ve been looking so desperately unhappy lately, that it sounds like a nice happy ending - just in time for the Christmas carols.

I wanted to see him fall

Just for the record: the “Bettencourt affair” was a psychologically tricky, but in reality not very complicated issue because in the end, it was all about money. Over the years, 88-year old Liliane had given at least 1,3 billion Euros to her friend, the photographer François-Marie Banier who’s 63. After some years of observing the agile dandy vampirizing the old lady, the daughter finally filed a criminal complaint against Banier in 2007 and blamed him for exploiting the fragility of her old mother.

And Banier? Frankly, I’ve been waiting for his trial and now I’m pretty disappointed that the guy will just walk out of this mess without any judgement or any punishment. I was preparing myself for the role of a gleeful onlooker; I wanted to know more about him, because he’s extremely talented, very witty and highly manipulating. And most of all: I wanted to see him fall. Why? Because his whole life seems to be based on nothing but lies. He pretends to be an artist (some books, millions of photos), but after all he looks a lot more like an imposter seeking the company of  very important and very rich people to capture a bit of their light – and a lot of their money.

Cash, cash, a lot of cash

With Liliane Bettencourt, Banier wasn’t on his first friendship with wealthy elderly women. But she definitely marks his masterpiece: More than a billion Euros only in buttering her up – I'd like to see anyone else do that! Do you know what he said when asked about the Seychelles island Bettencourt apparently offered him? That he doesn’t want it anyway, “because of the mosquitoes and the sharks”.

What he wanted was: a whole building on rue Servandoni near Jardin de Luxemburg, which he extended, little by little to 600 square meters, plus a not exactly modest summer residence in Provence with seven horses, a lot of paintings, and not the minors, life assurances, a juicy contract with L’Oréal as an “art advisor” and cash, cash, lots of cash.

What would you do with a billion?

After Banier was  no longer beneficiary of the will of  Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman declared, that he " became the man to shoot".

Ok, the fabulous Monsieur Banier was entertaining Madame Bettencourt, but was his charm, his witty company really worth that much? “The Bettencourt affair”, says Nicole Wisniak, a friend of Banier and editor of the exclusive magazine Egoiste, “was a one-man-show doing one billion with just a single ticket”. That’s it. Nothing more to be said.Photos:
Banier in his studio © AFP, Miguel Medina