Court freezes assets of late French rocker Johnny Hallyday in €100m inheritance battle

The two eldest children of French rock singer Johnny Hallyday have won a legal bid to freeze his assets in France in a bitter family feud over an inheritance estimated at up to €100 million (£86m).

However, the court rejected their plea to be able to be able to have a say on his posthumous album, due for imminent release, to see whether it was worthy of the author of such Gallic greats as “Quelque chose de Tennessee”.

France was plunged into mourning when “Johnny” died in December at the age of 74 after a battle with lung cancer and a five-decade career that saw him sell 110 million records and release 1,160 songs. More than a million had gathered for the funeral of the crooner they called “the French Elvis” in Paris.

Amid the tears, the revered singer dropped a bombshell on his family by leaving his entire estate to his fourth wife Laeticia, 42, a former model, and their two adopted daughters, Jade and Joy, but nothing to his two eldest children from previous relationships.

Actress Laura Smet, 34, along with her half-brother David Hallyday, 51, challenged the will, with Ms Smet’s lawyer declaring she had been left nothing, “Not a guitar, not a motorbike, and not even the signed sleeve of the song ‘Laura’ which is dedicated to her".

The will was drawn up in California, where Hallyday spent much of his later years when not in Saint-Barthélémy, a French Caribbean island.

French court freezes assets of late French rocker Johnny Hallyday in family inheritance feudCredit:
 Francois Mori/AP

The two children argue that the American will is contrary to French law, which would automatically have split the inheritance between the four children and his wife.

With a decision over whether French or US law applies to the inheritance likely to months or years, the eldest children sought to freeze his assets and artistic rights.

In a partial victory, the court in Nanterre, west of Paris, decided to freeze those based in France. The judge ruled that there was a “real risk of a transfer of all assets of the deceased to the JPS Trust” – a US-based trust run by Bank of America whose sole beneficiary is Laeticia Hallyday.

The court said the move was justified as the transfer “could happen at any moment, and/or the liquidation of the estate, thus depriving them of almost any chance of recovering a potential share of the inheritance”.

Laeticia Hallyday was forbidden from “selling or disposing of” the singer’s properties in Marnes-la-Coquette, an affluent village near Paris, and Saint-Barthélémy. All royalties from song rights are also blocked.

French court freezes France-base assets belonging to late French rocker Johnny HallydayCredit:

However, the court ruled against freezing control of two other US-based properties in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, where Laetitia lives most of the time to avoid “disproportionate consequences” on her and her underage daughters.

As for the posthumous album, which is likely to become a bestseller, the court ruled that a signed contract made it clear that the “singer accepted that the ten tracks he had interpreted during recording sessions would be commercialised by Warner”.

As a result there was no “certain risk” of violating his artistic integrity. Both sides claimed victory after the ruling. Lawyers for Ms Smet hailed the “first stage of the judicial process” which “has started in a favourable manner”.

“This ruling accepts (our) argument that French law applies to settling the inheritance,” said Pierre-Olivier Sur, Hervé Témime and Emmanuel Ravanas.

However, Laeticia’s lawyer, Ardavan Amir-Aslamni, seized on on the decision not to freeze the US assets or the album’s release as proof that “the will of Johnny Hallyday has been respected”. 

He said she had neither "the will" nor "the power" to sell the French assets.

France has been transfixed by the very public feud, as various celebrities close to Hallyday have come out in support of either camp.

Johnny Hallyday and his wife Laeticia kiss Credit:
 Jean-Paul Pelissier/ REUTERS

In the latest twist to the saga, Laeticia Hallyday broke her silence on Wednesday for the first time since Hallyday’s December 5 death to declare: "They have stolen my bereavement. They have showered me with blows."

“My husband is no longer there to speak the truth. Would they have dared do that when their father was alive?,” his fourth wife told weekly magazine Le Point, insisting she had had no say over her husband’s will.

Described in court by rival lawyers as "manipulative" and by some commentators as "the black widow", she said: “They’re trying to turn me into something I am not."

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Her late husband had considered that he had already given them enough to “keep them out of harm’s way”, she told Le Point.

Despite the court drama, she insisted that “all I ask is for peace” with David and Laura. “I await them with open arms. We are a family! Believe me when I say that one day I will be ready to forgive them.”

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