The world’s richest woman and heiress of cosmetics giant L’Oreal Liliane Bettencourt, 94, has died.
On Thursday, her daughter Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, 64, released a statement saying that her mother – who has held the title of the richest woman on the planet for two years – had passed away.
“In this painful moment for us, I would like to reiterate, on behalf of our family, our entire commitment and loyalty to L’Oreal and to renew my confidence in its President Jean-Paul Agon and his teams worldwide,” Bettencourt Meyers told the New York Times in an email statement.
The heiress’ family, which founded L’Oreal, has a 33 percent stake in the company, while Bettencourt herself had a net worth of $39.5billion.
Bettencourt’s father, Eugène Schueller, was the founder of the cosmetics giant. Following his death in 1957 she became the head of the company, and following the move to go public she remained the largest shareholder in L’Oreal.
In March of this year Forbes ranked her as the richest female on the planet, the second time in as many years; it even reported that her fortune had increased by $3.4billion in just 12 months.
Speaking about Liliane’s death, L’Oreal chairman and chief executive Jean-Paul Agon expressed “great admiration” for the woman who steered the company as its owner for the best part of a decade.
Mr Agon said she “always looked” after the company and its employees and “she has personally contributed greatly to its success for many years”.
Aside from her role as owner/major shareholder in the company, France’s richest woman managed to make a few headlines of her own throughout her life.
Married to French Politician André Bettencourt from 1950 till his death in 2007, Lilian was a prominent part of French society and a revered businesswoman around the world.
However, in 2010, her friendship with society photographer François-Marie Banier turned into one of France’s biggest scandals, as the now 70-year-old snapper, actor and novelist was revealed to have been gifted £800million in gifts – including works of art by the likes of Picasso.
The scandal resulted in her daughter and the wider Bettencourt family wrestling control of her fortune from Liliane, eventually resulting in her being named a ward of the state and being places in the care of her family.
Thanks to her finances being scrutinised so closely that same year prosecutors opened a separate investigation into her tax affairs after secret recordings of conversations between the heiress and her wealth manager came to light.
The recordings, made by Liliane’s butler, were passed to the police by her daughter. Transcripts published by the news website Mediapart appeared to refer to undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland and the Seychelles.
The heiress admitted tax evasion and promised to put her affairs in order, but her political connections came under the spotlight.
Prosecutors began a separate inquiry into Liliane’s donations to Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party, the UMP – Mr Sarkozy consistently rejected all accusations of impropriety.
She was also a victim of Bernard Madoff after some of her vast fortune was invested in the fraudster’s ponzi scheme.
By JJ Nattrass