Death of L'Oreal Heiress at 94 Raises Question About Nestle Stake in the Company

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Credit: L'Oreal

Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oreal beauty business and the world's wealthiest woman, has died at age 94, the company announced Thursday.

Her death technically opens the door for the world's biggest food company, Nestle, to acquire the world's biggest beauty marketer. Nestle and the Bettencourt family have had a longstanding agreement that neither could increase their stake in L'Oreal until six months after her death.

Nestle executives have declined to indicate their plans, though the company reduced its L'Oreal stake in 2014 to 23 percent from 29 percent and is under pressure from activist investor Dan Loeb to sell remaining shares.

Bettencourt, who battled Alzheimer's disease, was daughter of L'Oreal founder Eugene Schueller. She was surrounded by controversy late in life amid allegations from her daughter that photographer Francois-Marie Banier exploited her dementia to take money. Banier was convicted of related charges in 2015.

Charges that former French President Nicholas Sarkozy also took advantage of Bettencourt to fund his 2007 campaign were dropped in 2013 over lack of evidence, but were among factors that led him to lose a 2012 election.

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