French Photographer Gets 3-Year Prison Sentence

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A French court has handed photographer Francois-Marie Banier a three-year prison sentence (six months of which was suspended) and a 350,000 euro fine after he was found guilty of profiteering from France’s richest woman.

The photographer, famous for his street photography and his portraits of celebrities, was accused of taking advantage of L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s fragile mental state, manipulating her into giving him artwork, cash and other favors worth more than 450 million euros, the Associated Press reports.

Banier first met Bettencourt in the late 1980s when he photographed her for the French magazine Egoiste. From 2006 to 2009, a period during which Bettencourt was said to suffer from mixed dementia, Banier received a series of cash payments totaling more than 160 million euros, as well as paintings by Picasso and Matisse, among others.

Banier has always maintained that Bettencourt was of sound mind when she made her gifts. “Yes, these sums might appear to be enormous, but that made her so happy,” he said during the high-profile trial. “What’s the price of happiness?”

Banier’s lawyers will appeal his sentence.

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