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Swiss judge orders searches in l'Oreal saga
September 7, 2010 / 4:17 PM / 7 years ago

Swiss judge orders searches in l'Oreal saga

* Judge says searches at request of French authorities

* Declines to confirm two law firms, private bank targeted

GENEVA, Sept 7 (Reuters) - 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 government. [ID:nLDE681195]

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 France.”

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 authorities.

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

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