TV & Movies

How Liliane Bettencourt’s Butler Secretly Recorded Her

A Netflix docuseries explores the controversy surrounding Pascal Bonnefoy’s tapes.

Liliane Bettencourt's butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, in 2015. Photo via Getty Images

Netflix’s new docuseries The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend revisits the scandal surrounding the final years of Liliane Bettencourt, L’Oréal heiress and, at the time of her death, the richest woman in the world.

One element of the twisty controversy revolves around Bettencourt’s butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, who secretly recorded more than 20 hours of his employer’s conversations from 2009 to 2010 — conversations that, when leaked, would have lasting ramifications for the heiress’ inner circle.

Before The Tapes

Bonnefoy worked for the Bettencourts since 1989 and “got on very well” with the family, he said in court (via The Independent). But after the death of André Bettencourt, Liliane’s husband, in 2007, Bonnefoy said, “There was no longer anyone to warn her, to watch out for her.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bonnefoy was also worried that two members of his employer’s inner circle — her close friend, François-Marie Banier, and financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre — disliked him.

Liliane Bettencourt with François-Marie Banier.Eric Robert/Sygma/Getty Images

“He wanted to protect himself because behind his back, de Maistre and Banier wanted him out,” Bonnefoy’s lawyer, Antoine Gillot, told the Journal in 2010.

How Did He Do It?

So, Bonnefoy turned to the recordings. Gillot separately shared with Vanity Fair the mechanism of his client’s secret operation: When Bettencourt was receiving guests, she’d reportedly ask Bonnefoy to bring in a tray of goodies.

“And he came in and put the tray on the table. Then he placed his little recorder on the bureau with a piece of black felt over it,” Gillot said.

The Aftermath

Liliane Bettencourt with her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.Paul Hubble/GC Images/Getty Images

Banier, a photographer, was already the subject of a criminal complaint by Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, for alleged “abus de faiblesse,” or an abuse of weakness.

The Journal said the recordings — which captured conversations between Bettencourt and her entourage — depicted a “fragile” woman. Additionally, The New York Times reported that she had Alzheimer’s disease and, at one point, couldn’t remember gifting Banier an entire island.

Bonnefoy’s recordings helped lead to multiple people being convicted of “exploiting” Bettencourt, per the BBC, including Banier and de Maistre. But as the Journal pointed out, the recordings themselves were obtained illegally. So Bonnefoy wasn’t necessarily off the hook.

Bonnefoy’s Fate


According to The Independent, Bonnefoy and five journalists went to trial for invading Bettencourt’s privacy. But ultimately, all six were cleared.

As for what the butler is doing seven years later, that isn’t easy to determine. Job-wise, Bonnefoy’s ties to his former employer ended in 2010 — the same year he concluded his recordings and “abruptly” quit his post, per Vanity Fair.

The 2017 acquittal seemed to mark the end of any legal concerns for Bonnefoy.