When The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend was released on Netflix in November 2023, the world had the chance to discover many hidden details of one of the biggest scandals that has emerged in France in the last few years. A true story that involves one of the wealthiest women in the world, Liliane Bettencourt, and the legal battle against the people around her who profited from her generosity. Among life insurance policies, inheritance, will changes and tax frauds, one of the most interesting aspects revealed by the documentary is D’Arros Island in Seychelles, a little paradise owned by Liliane Bettencourt, who had to sell it amid the investigation for tax evasion.
The story told in The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend is true: when Liliane Bettencourt met François-Marie Banier in 1987, her life drifted in an entirely new direction. She was married, but she developed a particular affair with François-Marie, who acted as a boyfriend for years and became one of the biggest beneficiaries of Bettencourt’s proverbial generosity. Not only did the French photographer receive gifts worth almost one billion euros over the years of his relationship with Liliane, but she also appointed him as the sole heir of her private holdings in a will that would change before her death.
After François-Marie Banier became Liliane Bettencourt’s boyfriend, one of her domestic workers started secretly recording her conversations inside the house. The recordings eventually became public in 2010, leading to the so-called “Bettencourt affair” and the extensive investigation of Liliane’s alleged payments to the French political class. The case also involved an audit of Liliane Bettencourt’s properties and tax profile, given the bank accounts and properties discussed in the recordings and not declared to the authorities. The most significant undeclared property Liliane Bettencourt had was D’Arros Island, a small paradise in Seychelles bought in 1997.
D’Arros Island is a small in the Seychelles, the archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The island has an area of just 1.71 km² (0.66 sq mi), and until some years ago, its population numbered between 30 and 40. The island was uninhabited when it was discovered in 1771 during a French exploratory mission from Mauritius: its name comes from Baron d’Arros, a French naval commander at the time. Liliane Bettencourt bought it in 1997 for £11.5m. However, in 2012 she sold it for £39m to the offshore company Save Our Seas Foundation, amid the scandal about her unpaid taxes. As explained by this old article in the Daily Mail, both the French and Seychelles’ governments demanded she pay an additional fine for the island’s illegal purchase years before.
Today, D’Arros Island is a protected nature reserve. The Save Our Seas Foundation, which owns it, focuses on preserving the unique natural environment. The island has recently become the protagonist of the D’Arros experience, an initiative launched by the foundation that involves young Seychellois students in entering into contact with the island’s ecosystem. You can discover more about this initiative in the video below, and you’ll also have the chance to see the island from a closer point of view.
For a short period, Liliane Bettencourt intended to give D’Arros Island to her boyfriend François-Marie Banier as a gift. The scandal that emerged in 2010 forced her to sell it and fix her tax situation, so now D’Arros Island is a nature reserve owned by a foundation entirely dedicated to the ecosystem’s preservation. The world had forgotten about this island’s existence, which is probably good news for the its unique fauna and delicate environment.