Fraud squad raids IMF chief's Paris home
Anti-fraud police have raided the Paris home of Christine Lagarde, the head of the Internation Monetary Fund (IMF), as part of an investigation into alleged misuse of public office and "embezzlement" when she was the French finance minister in 2008.
Ms Lagarde (57) was not at home at the time. Her lawyer, Yves Repiquet, said he believed the search would "help to reveal the truth and exonerate my client from all criminal responsibility".
The investigation concerns the payment of almost €400m in state compensation to a disgraced tycoon, Bernard Tapie, in 2008.
Three magistrates are investigating allegations that Ms Lagarde acted improperly when she created an independent panel to end a legal dispute over the sale by a state-owned bank of Mr Tapie's holding in the Adidas sportswear company, in 1993.
Mr Tapie was jailed in 1997 after being found guilty of a number of offences including the fixing of a match involving the football club that he owned at the time, Olympique Marseille. Once a left-wing activist and minister, Mr Tapie switched sides after he left prison to back Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election.
The magistrates are investigating claims that Ms Lagarde, as Finance Minister, intervened improperly to ensure Mr Tapie received high compensation for what he claimed was incompetent handling of the Adidas sale by Credit Lyonnais in 2011.
He was allegedly given a "sweetheart" deal in return for his support for Mr Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election. Ms Lagarde is expected to be questioned by the magistrates in the near future.
"It would not be appropriate to comment on a case that has been and is currently before the French judiciary," Gerry Rice, a spokesman for the Washington-based IMF, said in a statement. "Prior to its selection of the managing director, however, the IMF's executive board discussed this issue and expressed its confidence that Madame Lagarde would be able to effectively carry out her duties."
Yesterday's search wasn't the first as part of the investigation. Police raided the home and office of Claude Gueant, Mr Sarkozy's former staff chief, France Info radio reported last month.
Also searched were the homes of Mr Tapie, France Telecom SA Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard, Ms Lagarde's staff chief when she was finance minister, and those of the arbitration panel judges as well as Mr Tapie's lawyer's office.
Ms Lagarde, who is due to fly back to Washington from Europe, took over an institution reeling from the arrest of former chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges including attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York. The charges were later dropped and he settled the maid's lawsuit last year.
The longest-serving finance minister of France since the 1970s, Ms Lagarde has stood by her decision in the Tapie case, saying in an interview that "it was the best solution at the time and I think it was the right choice".