* Judge says searches at request of French authorities
* Declines to confirm two law firms, private bank targeted
GENEVA, Sept 7 Switzerland is cooperating in an
investigation into the possible misuse of the financial assets
of Europe's wealthiest woman, l'Oreal (OREP.PA) heiress Liliane
Bettencourt, a magistrate said on Tuesday.
What began as a family feud between Bettencourt and her
estranged daughter Francoise has exploded into a series of
investigations concerning political donations, suspected tax
evasion and money laundering that has shaken the French
Judge Jean-Bernard Schmid told Reuters that he was acting at
the request of French judicial authorities but the inquiry was
not aimed at detecting tax evasion by Bettencourt.
"French authorities have requested searches and above all
the seizing of documents, which is under way," Schmid said.
"They have to be examined to see what has been gathered and
whether people will contest the judicial cooperation with
There had been no arrests, he added.
Schmid declined to confirm a report in the Lausanne daily Le
Matin that three Geneva establishments were targeted in the
raids -- two law firms and a private bank.
"This type of seizure is usually carried out in banks,
financial intermediaries and fiduciaries," he said.
"This is not fiscal, it is not a fiscal problem which the
French authorities are investigating," Schmid said. "The aim is
to see whether Madame Bettencourt was cheated or abused in the
management of her assets, whether people took advantage of her."
"She would be more of a victim than an accused person in
this operation," he added.
Bettencourt has acknowledged the existence of undeclared
Swiss bank accounts and says she will repatriate the 78 mln
euros ($100 mln) held in them and settle up with the French tax
French Labour Minister Eric Woerth, a close ally of
President Nicolas Sarkozy, has admitted he intervened in favour
of Bettencourt's wealth manager. His wife Florence worked for
the manager, Patrice de Maistre.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Laura MacInnis
and Michael Roddy)