FACTBOX - L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt

REUTERS - France’s wealthiest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, 87, is at the centre of a political storm after secret recordings made by her ex-butler over her tax situation were leaked in June, embroiling French Labour Minister Eric Woerth and his wife.

French photographer Francois-Marie Banier draws during a break in the hearing at Nanterre courthouse near Paris July 1, 2010. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Files

The “Bettencourt Affair” took a new turn on Tuesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy denied allegations by Bettencourt’s former bookkeeper that his party had received illegal campaign donations in cash from the billionaire and her late husband.

Asked what she thought of the turn of events, Bettencourt told a television interview on July 2: “One can only accept it. This is a republic.”

Bettencourt’s lawyer has not commented on the allegations.

Here are five facts about Liliane Bettencourt.

* Born on Oct. 21, 1922 in Paris, Liliane Bettencourt is the daughter of L’Oreal founder Eugene Schueller, joining L’Oreal as an apprentice at the age of 15.

* She inherited the group in 1957. Since 1974, the Bettencourt family and Swiss food group Nestle control 53.85 percent of the capital and 71.66 percent of the votes in L’Oreal via a joint venture, Gesparal. Bettencourt also has a stake in Nestle. The agreement was simplified in 2004.

* Bettencourt is Europe’s wealthiest woman and the second richest individual in France with an estimated fortune of $20 billion, according to the 2010 Forbes billionaires list.

* With ex-husband Andre, a former cabinet minister under President Charles de Gaulle, Bettencourt set up the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller in 1987. She was awarded France’s top honour for financing an AIDS NGO.

* A court case in which Bettencourt’s daughter has accused a society photographer of extorting gifts worth 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) from the heiress began on July 1. It was swiftly adjourned to give police time to investigate the secret recordings.