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A file picture taken of French Billionaire L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt in the Institut de Francein Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT Francois Guillot/ AFP Photo
A file picture taken of French Billionaire L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt in the Institut de Francein Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT Francois Guillot/ AFP Photo


BORDEAUX, France – Ten people close to France’s richest woman Liliane Bettencourt go on trial Monday, January 26, charged with exploiting the frail L’Oreal heiress in an explosive drama that began with a family feud and put a president in the court’s crosshairs.

A bitter mother-daughter feud, a butler’s betrayal, advancing dementia, unscrupulous friends and cash-filled envelopes for politicians: these are only some threads of the complex web surrounding the world’s 12th biggest fortune that the court will have to untangle.

The intricate tale began when one of the accused, Francois-Marie Banier, an artist and photographer with a string of rich and famous friends, became a close confidant of Bettencourt, now 92.

The heiress, worth an estimated $38 billion (33 billion euros) according to Forbes magazine, showered Banier with gifts, such as paintings by Picasso and Matisse, life insurance funds and millions of euros in cash.

Bettencourt also made him her sole heir, which she would later revoke.

Her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers filed charges against Banier in 2007 for exploiting her mother’s growing mental fragility – which the matriarch staunchly denied – a month after the death of her father Andre.

Enter the butler.

Concerned about his employer’s growing fragility, Pascal Bonnefoy in 2009 placed a recorder in her office, whose explosive contents would reveal her weakened mental state and how she was being manipulated by those around her.

Tax evasion and shady politics

Another one of the accused, Patrice de Maistre, who managed Bettencourt’s fortune, is heard in the tapes encouraging her to commit tax evasion — including hiding the purchase of a Seychelles island, according to media accounts of the recordings.

De Maistre is also accused of getting Bettencourt to hand over envelopes of cash to members of the then-ruling UMP, such as his friend, Eric Woerth, a former minister and campaign treasurer for ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy in his 2007 run for office.

The affair tarnished the latter half of Sarkozy’s presidency and when he lost the 2012 election he was placed under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and taking advantage of Bettencourt.

However the charges were dropped in October 2013, easing the way for Sarkozy to launch a political comeback which saw him win the leadership of the right-wing UMP late last year.

But Woerth is still facing five years in prison and De Maistre is charged with money laundering as well as taking advantage of Bettencourt.

The heiress’s former friend, the photographer Banier, is facing three years in prison, and his life partner Martin d’Orgeval is also in the dock in in the southwestern port city of Bordeaux.

A lawyer, a notary, the former manager of Bettencourt’s Seychelles island as well as a former nurse to the 92-year-old are also among those accused of exploiting her mental fragility.

As for Bettencourt, the ailing billionaire was in 2011 declared unfit to run her own affairs after a medical report showed she suffered from “mixed dementia” and “moderately severe” Alzheimer’s disease.

Her fortune and the cosmetics giant L’Oreal have been placed under the guardianship of family members.

Bettencourt’s father Eugene Schueller founded L’Oreal in 1909, starting with hair dye and later branching out to form the world’s largest cosmetics company, famous for the advertising slogan, “Because I am Worth it.”

Bettencourt, whose own mother died when she was five, started as an apprentice at L’Oreal aged 15 and is no stranger to controversy.

Both her father and her husband Andre Bettencourt were accused of being ardent Nazi collaborators during World War II.





The Red Notices, for charges including embezzlement and misappropriation, were issued on Monday 12 January 2015 following a thorough review by INTERPOL’s Office of Legal Affairs to ensure that Ukraine’s request for the notices was in compliance with the Organization’s rules and regulations.

Two other Red Notices linked to the case have also been issued for former Minister of Finance Iiuri Kolobov and Georgii Dzekon.

These Red Notices are not connected to a previous request made by Ukraine in March 2014 for a Red Notice to be issued for Victor Yanukovych on charges including abuse of power and murder. This request was assessed by INTERPOL as not compliant with the Organization’s rules and regulations and was refused.

A Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant and INTERPOL cannot compel any member country to arrest the subject of a Red Notice.

Red Notices are one of the ways in which INTERPOL informs its member countries that an arrest warrant has been issued for an individual by a judicial authority. A Red Notice seeks the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action.

The individuals concerned are wanted by national jurisdictions (or International Criminal Tribunals, where appropriate) and INTERPOL’s role is to assist national police forces in identifying or locating those individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition.

Red Notices are only issued to INTERPOL member countries if the requesting National Central Bureau has provided all the information required by the General Secretariat.

Any request by a member country for INTERPOL to issue a Red Notice is subject to the Organization’s rules and regulations. This includes Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution, according to which it is ‘strictly forbidden for the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.’ This prohibition is taken extremely seriously by INTERPOL.

Many of INTERPOL’s member countries however, consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest, especially if they are linked to the requesting country via a bilateral extradition treaty.
INTERPOL’s General Secretariat does not send officers to arrest individuals who are the subject of a Red Notice. Only the national authorities of the INTERPOL member country where the individual is located have the legal authority to arrest.

In cases where arrests are made based on a Red Notice, these are made by national police officials in INTERPOL member countries.



Viktor Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov



A district court in Kiev has ruled to arrest the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014, and Ukraine’s ex-prime minister, Mykola Azarov, the press service of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said on Tuesday.

“On January 19, 2015, the Pechersky district court in Kiev ruled to take Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych into custody at the request of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office,” the press service said in its statement.

On January 12, the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, issued a Red Notice for Yanukovych — an instrument to seek his detention and extradition to Ukraine with an aim of prosecution and punishment.

According to Interpol, the former Ukrainian president is wanted at his country’s request for embezzlement in huge amounts and misappropriation as part of an organized group.

The Pechersky district court has also ruled to arrest Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

“On January 19, the Pechersky district court in Kiev ruled to take Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, into custody at the request of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in its statement.

On January 12, Interpol also issued a Red Notice for Azarov who is wanted in Ukraine on suspicion of embezzlement in huge amounts while being a member of an organized group.


medicines sold in Jalalabad

At the beginning of December Najib’s 10-week-old daughter fell ill, crying with stomach ache late into the night. The next day her chest seemed to hurt, so Najib took her to the doctor, who prescribed paracetamol for the pain, phenobarbital for sedation and the antibiotic cefixime to kill potential bacteria.

But over the next few days the baby’s health deteriorated. “She was healthy. We did not expect that this disease would affect her like that,” Najib, 30, said. Years ago, when the family was living in Pakistan, other children in the family with similar ailments had been treated effectively with small doses of paracetamol and antibiotics.

On the fourth night the child stopped feeding. When she woke up, “her eyes were not in the normal position”, Najib said. He took her to the hospital in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, where doctors gave her oxygen. After five minutes, she died. The family buried her the same day, Najib said. He blames the drugs. “The medicine company and the doctors claim that this is quality medicine, but it doesn’t give any result,” he said. “There is no quality medicine here in Jalalabad. For any disease.”

Najib’s family are not the only Afghans to blame poor-quality drugs for making diseases worse. Every day illegal medicine flows from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan. “The market is full of low-quality or fake medicines,” said Khushal Tasal, regional director of the Afghan Doctors’ and Medical Professionals’ Association, a civil society group.

About half of Afghanistan’s pharmaceutical imports are smuggled and not subject to quality control, according to a recent report by the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), a watchdog assembled by the international community and the Afghan government. The combined value of illegal and legal pharmaceuticals is $700m (£445m) to $880m.

Corruption at customs opened up the country to counterfeit, inferior medicine. Because of its proximity to the largely uncontrolled 1,600-mile border, the biggest market is Nangarhar province and its capital, Jalalabad, where fake drugs seamlessly enter the medicine stock, making it virtually impossible for non-specialists to distinguish between good and bad products.

When donkey carts and motorcycles kick up dust, the dealers cover the drugs with a piece of cloth, but otherwise do little to protect them against the heat and grime.

“There is no policy regarding registration of medical companies in Afghanistan, and no monitoring of companies in the provinces,” said Ajmal Pardis, a former director of public health in Nangarhar and an adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The MEC report says corruption and inadequate licensing standards have led to “huge numbers of companies producing low-quality pharmaceuticals”.

“They don’t take care of these poor children,” Pardis said about the illicit pharmaceutical traders and the doctors who prescribe their products. “These innocent people, they are the victims.”

Those who can afford to, travel to Pakistani cities such as Peshawar to buy medicine. When Pardis’s child was suffering from septic arthritis, he crossed the border for treatment.

Low-quality and counterfeit medicines not only damage the health sector’s credibility, according to Tasal, they also impoverish people who have to seek help from a doctor or travel abroad for treatment.

There are individuals in Afghanistan who buck a system that appears rigged against the poor and the sick.

Fawad Khan Azizi is a private GP in Jalalabad who ran for Nangarhar’s provincial council in national elections this year on a promise to root out counterfeit medicine. Illicit medicine comes in two types, Azizi told the Guardian at his small clinic. The first is completely fake. The second contains a small dose, say 20%, of the stated medicine, and this type can be most harmful, he said. Too small a quantity of an antibiotic, for example, will not only fail to treat an infection effectively but risks making the bacteria drug-resistant. “The packing looks perfect but the product is harmful,” Azizi said.

Fawad Khan Azizi ran for Nangarhar's provincial council national elections on a promise to root out counterfeit medicine.
Fawad Khan Azizi ran for Nangarhar’s provincial council national elections on a promise to root out counterfeit medicine. Photograph: Andrew Quilty / Oculi :: aquilty/Andrew Quilty / Oculi

A few weeks ago the mother of an acquaintance had been taking medicine bought in Pakistan to relieve the pain of stomach cancer. When she ran out, her son began buying it in their village. Two hours after her first dose, she started vomiting, said Azizi, who then gave her medicine from his own clinic. The woman immediately felt better, he said.

Although there are some quality control measures in place for medicine in the public healthcare system, implementation is weak, according to a US-funded report on pharmaceuticals in Afghanistan. However, most medicines are prescribed and sold privately, and there is no data on pharmacists working in the private sector, the report adds.

According to Pardis, corruption pervades the public healthcare system went all the way down to hospitals’ procurement departments, where companies bought off doctors to sell products they know are substandard. Without standardised treatment practices, or funds for research, most doctors prescribe medicine irrationally and with unnecessary vigour, he said.

That seems to have been the case in the death of Najib’s baby. Phenobarbital, which the doctor prescribed as a sedative, is often used to treat epileptic seizures. It can cause hypoventilation and, therefore, would be risky to give to an infant with respiratory problems. “Here we give patients shotgun therapy. Any kind of medicine, we prescribe it,” Pardis said.

There is no Afghan government research into the scale of the sale of illicit medicine. One of the few quantitative analyses – conducted by MEC – says the Afghan health ministry is partly to blame.

Up to 300 companies based in Pakistan make medicine specifically for export to Afghanistan, which does not require the standards demanded by their own government for drugs used in Pakistan, says the report. These companies account for about 60% of all pharmaceuticals on the market, says the MEC.

In total, 450 foreign pharmaceutical suppliers are registered with the health ministry in Afghanistan, which has a population of 31 million people. In comparison, India, which has a population of more than 1.2 billion, has about 100 registered foreign medicine suppliers.

One of the main election promises of the newly elected Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, is to root out corruption. That would stem the flow of counterfeit drugs into Afghanistan. But he has yet to present a clear plan of how to do so.

USAid officials estimate that corruption robs Afghan government of up to 50% of its customs revenue. Without tackling corruption at the border and within Afghanistan’s healthcare system, counterfeit medicine will remain a lucrative business for Jalalabad’s street dealers.

“Everyone is a trader,” Pardis said. “Any farmer can put on a white shirt, and then he is a pharmacist.”


Aerial View Of London
While it may not look it, the city has a growing reputation as ‘lights-out London’ because of the number of homes not being lived in. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/Barcroft Media

London is gloriously un-plannable and horribly unplanned. From the Romans to the Romanians, the immigrant tribes who now call themselves English have been drawn to our uniquely cosmopolitan capital. This heterogeneous cultural mixture may help to explain the lack of appetite for plan-led “improvements” or urban reshaping. There is no common cultural foundation upon which to create a formal grand plan.

On my bedroom wall hangs an artist’s perspective of the plan Wren touted for the City after the Great Fire of 1666, fleshed out with buildings of classical design, looking like a beaux arts continental city. It is the first thing I see when I wake every morning andprovides a constant reminder of the dangers of “master-planning”. If Wren, or any other planner, had had their way London would have ended up like Paris, Bath or Milton Keynes – architecturally inspired, but difficult to adapt to changing and unforeseeable future needs. Paris is formally planned, lacking in cultural diversity and inward-looking – no one can become a Parisian. London is unplanned, culturally diverse and a world business centre – anyone can become a Londoner.

But while gloriously un-plannable the capital needs to be loved if we want to avoid the phenomenon of “lights-out London”, with homes just used as boxes for spare cash. It cannot survive without careful management and subtle control. Left to untrammelled market forces it will become an unstoppable nuclear reaction. George Osborne has claimed our dizzying house price inflation as his miracle of “economic growth”. Long gone are the days when planning was the bag of a politician of intellectual calibre, such as Michael Heseltine.

Elected mayors love “trophy/vanity” projects: a cross-river cable car that duplicates a tube line; a tourists’ garden posing as a bridge; another model of custom-designed London bus – then make a quick escape to Uxbridge or Downing Street. Who’s playing Napoleon in the London panto this season? Boris, a planning committee of one. The City of London Corporation’s planning committee has more than 30 members and no politics. Which of these has the longer and more consistent vision?

As committees become smaller and cabinet government and elected mayors take control, planning decisions become more whimsical and likely to favour high-profile projects. There is greater danger of undue influence and corruption. Could the 1970s era of corrupt planning decisions return as power concentrates into fewer and fewer hands?

Workers and residents want comfortable accommodation near the ground, with attractive spaces and facilities close at hand. Manhattan, the City and Canary Wharf can justify building office towers because their land area is constrained and demand for commercial space high. Office towers can be built in tight, sustainable clusters. This minimises their environmental impact and maximises their economic advantage – if they are serviced by a high-capacity public transport system.

The same does not hold true for housing. The highest density residential neighbourhood in London is Chelsea, which is gloriously free of towers. In the 1970s, the Greater London Council created some of the highest density housing estates. These six- to eight-floor redbrick developments were built around the edges of their site, leaving attractive central gardens. Lillington Gardens, in Vauxhall Bridge Road, is a fine example, beautifully maintained and highly popular with its residents.

A residential development in Central London is now likely to make four to six times more profit than an office scheme. Without planning control, much-needed offices have given way to piles of “safe-deposit boxes” rising across the capital. These towers, many of dubious architectural quality, are sold off-plan to the world’s “uber-rich”, as a repository for their spare and suspect capital. The purchasers are attracted by London’s rocketing residential prices, born of our unusual fixation on home-ownership. But many chose not to live here.

Rented housing is a