L'Oréal heiress, world’s wealthiest woman, dies at 94

Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal cosmetics dynasty ranked as the world's richest woman, died Wednesday, NPR reported. She was 94.

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In March, Forbes placed Bettencourt's net worth at $39.5 billion. Bettencourt and her family were the largest stakeholders of L'Oréal, owning 33.1 percent of the company, the Financial Times reported.

Bettencourt's daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, confirmed the death in a statement to French media, saying her mother died "peacefully" at her home in France.

Bettencourt's father, Eugene Schueller, founded L'Oréal in 1909. The chemist created and patented a hair dye that helped launch the company into an international multibillion-dollar powerhouse. Upon his death in 1957, he left his daughter controlling interest in L'Oréal, The New York Times reported.

Bettencourt served as board director until stepping down in 2012 when she was replaced by her then-25-year-old grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers.

"We all had a great admiration for Liliane Bettencourt who always looked after L'Oréal, the company and its employees, and was very attached to its success and development," Jean Paul Agon, chairman and CEO of L'Oréal Group, said in a statement. "She has personally contributed greatly to its success for many years."

Bettencourt's past included a long-standing family controversy that spilled into French politics, known as l'affaire Bettencourt, NPR reported. The scandal not only titillated French media but may have resulted in Nicolas Sarkozy's losing the presidency.

In 2007, Bettencourt-Meyers, an only child, filed a criminal suit, accusing her mother's friend François-Marie Banier of taking advantage of an elderly woman not in full control of her faculties. Bettencourt had given Banier some billion dollars' worth of gifts, and he had reportedly suggested that she adopt him.

Banier and several others, including business associates and lawyers, were all found guilty of exploiting Bettencourt, who the French court said was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Banier was sentenced to prison and fined.

Secretly recorded tapes and accusations by a disgruntled employee implicated Sarkozy as benefiting from Bettencourt's "largesse," NPR reported.

Sarkozy denied any wrongdoing, but was tainted by the scandal and was defeated by François Hollande in 2012.

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