Friday 9 December 2016

Lagarde faces trial for €400m payment to business mogul

Philippe Sotto in Paris

Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30

IMF chief Christine Lagarde who said she plans to appeal a decision to send her to trial over a €400m payment made to French businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008. Photo: Getty Images
IMF chief Christine Lagarde who said she plans to appeal a decision to send her to trial over a €400m payment made to French businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008. Photo: Getty Images
Bernard Tapie. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde last night said that she plans to appeal a decision to send her to trial over a €400m payment made to French businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008.

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Ms Lagarde, who was French finance minister at the time, denies any wrongdoing and said in a statement released by adviser Marc Vanghelder that she "always acted in this affair in the interest of the state and in respect of the law".

"A decision like this is incomprehensible," her lawyer Yves Repiquet said yesterday.

"I sent her a text, she was really surprised and very disappointed," he said, adding that his client was currently in Washington.

Decision

According to the statement she released, she considers "no charge can be attributed to her" and has asked her lawyers to launch an appeal over the earlier decision by the Court of Justice of the Republic to send her to trial.

It is a special court for trials of government ministers.

It was announced yesterday that Ms Lagarde had been ordered to stand trial.

She has maintained her innocence since the investigation began in 2011.

After four years of investigation, a prosecutor in September argued that the case against her should be dropped.

But the Court of Justice of the Republic has nonetheless decided that she has a case to answer, according to a spokesman at the court.

The spokesman did not have details of the lengthy written decision, and could not say exactly which charges were retained and therefore how much prison time, or fines, she might face if convicted.

Ms Lagarde's lawyers have five days after the formal notification of the decision to lodge an appeal.

The investigation actually began before Ms Lagarde became IMF chief in 2011. She took over from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who left under sexual assault allegations.

The executive board of the IMF has expressed confidence in Ms Lagarde despite the investigation and did so again yesterday.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a statement that IMF's executive board "continues to express its confidence in the managing director's ability to effectively carry out her duties." The IMF would not comment on the case.

The investigation centres on Tapie, a flamboyant magnate and TV star, who had sued French bank Credit Lyonnais for its handling of the sale of his majority stake in sportswear company Adidas in the mid-1990s.

With Lagarde's approval, a private arbitration panel ruled that he should get €400m in compensation, including interest.

The deal was seen by critics as a sign of a too-close relationship between magnates and the French political elite.

Tapie was close to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then Ms Lagarde's boss.

Generous

Critics say the deal was too generous to Tapie at the expense of the French state, and that the case shouldn't have gone to a private arbitration authority because it involved a state-owned bank. The unusually large sum surprised many and raised questions about how the decision was handled.

After many years of back-and-forth rulings, a court earlier this month reportedly ordered Mr Tapie to pay the money back.

In a statement in 2014 after being questioned in the case, Lagarde said the court had found no evidence that she had done anything wrong and that the only remaining allegation "is that I was not sufficiently vigilant".

A fluent English speaker, Ms Lagarde (57) is the first woman to head the IMF.

Ms Lagarde was appointed France's trade minister back in 2005 and, under her watch, French exports reached record levels.

In 2007 she became finance minister, the first woman to hold this post not just in France but in any of the G8 major industrial countries.

Irish Independent

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