France gripped by Bettencourt scandal

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PARIS — An aging heiress. An angry daughter. A society photographer. A renegade butler and an embittered accountant. Secret tapes. A famous company with a nasty past and long political connections. An unpopular president and a cabinet minister with a taste for money, and tales of illegal cash donations in envelopes.

This romantic stew is known as the “Bettencourt affair,” after the elderly heiress of the L’Oréal fortune, Liliane Bettencourt, 87. What began as a fierce family fight, with her daughter charging that Mrs. Bettencourt’s entourage has been manipulating her to steal her fortune, has shaken the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

The affair has captivated France even as it enters the long summer holiday, with daily headlines, detentions and constant leaks. Mr. Sarkozy’s sometimes clumsy efforts to contain the scandal are similar to BP’s in the gulf — the flow of crude appears contained but the problem is far from over.

His approval ratings, already low from France’s economic problems, have fallen further with the Bettencourt skullduggery.

Full story: France Is Gripped by Bettencourt Scandal – NYTimes.com