Photographer on Trial for Receiving Gigantic Gifts from French Heiress

But the case took an unexpected turn after secret recordings made by Bettencourt's butler recently surfaced in the French press. The trial was postponed indefinitely in the afternoon, after the court asked for a new investigation into the secret recordings. The 21 hours of tapes, recorded by her butler between May 2009 and May 2010 at Bettencourt's private mansion in chic Neuilly-sur-Seine outside Paris, reportedly bring to light the vulnerability of Liliane Bettencourt, as well as collateral matters involving possible tax evasion and links between Bettencourt and French labor minister Eric Woerth and his wife.

"This is not what I was hoping for, but this is what I was expecting," Georges Kiejman, lawyer for Liliane Bettencourt, told reporters outside the court after the trial was postponed. He said he's troubled that the recordings were made in the first place and that they might become evidence in the case.

"I consider that it (the trial) is nauseating and impossible," Herve Temime, Banier's lawyer, earlier told the court when asking for a postponement of the trial. Olivier Mesner, the lawyer for Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, told reporters: "This request [to postpone the trial] is logical and legitimate. The total and most transparent truth is what matters to me. If there is a postponement, I will ask for the recordings to be transcribed and be authenticated."

The case also took a political turn after the secret recordings showed the possible involvement of French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the legal procedure that followed the complaint lodged by Bettencourt's daughter. In one of the recordings, Patrice de Maistre, Bettencourt's financial adviser, told the heiress about the discussions he had with Sarkozy's former justice adviser at the Elysee Palace. "He told me public prosecutor (Philippe) Courroye (who was handling the complaint) would announce on September 3rd (2009) that your daughter's request is inadmissible, so matter closed," Maistre told Bettencourt. Indeed, on September 3rd, the French prosecutor dropped his own investigation into the affair and dismissed the case. Bettencourt-Meyer fought back and sought a private prosecution that led Banier to court today.

The name of French minister also emerged in the recordings, embarrassing French President Sarkozy's government. Eric Woerth, the current labor minister but also former budget minister until last march, in charge of pursuing tax dodgers, is under fire after it emerged that his wife Florence worked for the company managing Bettencourt's fortune run by Patrice de Maistre.

Florence Woerth has since resigned and her husband has denied any conflict of interest and suggestions of malpractice.

Today, an opinion poll showed Sarkozy's approval rating had hit a record low of 26 percent, largely due to what some are now calling the "Bettencourtgate".

The AP contributed to this report.

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