France’s richest woman has cut celebrity photographer François-Marie Banier out of her will, depriving him of an estimated €1.25 billion, in the latest twist in a family saga that has gripped France and shaken the government.

“Liliane Bettencourt feels she had already given a lot to Mr Banier, so she ended the arrangement which made him her sole named heir,” her lawyer Georges Kiejman told AFP yesterday.

Liliane Bettencourt is the sole heir of L’Oreal, the global shampoo and beauty products company that her father founded.

The change was made in mid-July, and no one else had been added to the will in his place, said Kiejman.

Banier has received gifts worth nearly a billion euros from the 87-year-old L’Oreal heiress over the years, sparking accusations from her daughter that he has abused their friendship.

Several judicial investigations are underway into affairs linked to Bettencourt’s fortune, including allegations of tax evasion and illegal campaign funding that have implicated French Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Bettencourt’s estranged daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers alleges people close to her mother, including Banier, have taken advantage of the heiress, who she claims is no longer in a fit mental state to manage her €16 billion fortune.

Dubbed ‘photographer to the stars’ after shooting the likes of US actor Johnny Depp and Princess Caroline of Monaco, Banier became close friends with Bettencourt after meeting her at a dinner party in 1969.

Among gifts he received from her were masterpiece paintings including works by Matisse and Mondrian worth €15 million, several cheques and life insurance policies, according to Bettencourt-Meyers.

Banier, 63, was Bettencourt’s sole named beneficiary in the will drawn up in December 2007, and was to receive around eight per cent of Bettencourt’s fortune, or an estimated €1.25 billion, a member of Bettencourt’s entourage said in July.

Bettencourt’s daughter and grandchildren would have received the rest of her fortune.

The 30 per cent stake in the global cosmetics giant that lies behind Bettencourt’s fortune is already in her daughter’s name, although Bettencourt receives all dividends.

The Bettencourt saga enveloped the government after the leaking in June of secretly recorded tapes that appeared to reveal a 2007 conversation between Bettencourt and a business adviser in which they allegedly discussed means of avoiding French tax.

The name of Woerth, then budget minister and the campaign fundraiser for President Nicolas Sarkozy, also came up in the recordings, during which the cosmetics billionaire appears to sign cheques for political donations.

Reports in June revealed that when Woerth was budget minister and tasked with chasing tax dodgers, his wife Florence worked for the estate of Bettencourt, who is being investigated for alleged tax evasion.

Florence Woerth has since stepped down from her post linked to the Bettencourt fortune.

Woerth has denied any wrongdoing and Sarkozy has suggested they are part of a smear campaign.

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