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IMF head Lagarde questioned over illegal payment


IMF's Christine Lagarde

IMF's Christine Lagarde

PA Archive/Press Association Images

IMF's Christine Lagarde

INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde will be questioned by a French magistrate in May over an arbitration payment made to a supporter of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Lagarde said today.

Lagarde, who formerly was France's finance minister, said there was "nothing new under the sun" and she was ready to be heard in the case involving businessman and former Socialist minister Bernard Tapie.

"A date has been set. It will be at the end of May and I'll be very happy to travel for a couple of days to Paris, but it's not going to change my focus, my attention and my enthusiasm for doing the work that I do," she said at a news conference in Washington.

Lagarde's lawyer in France, Yves Repiquet, did not confirm a report by website Mediapart that it would be held on May 23.

Lagarde's predecessor at the IMF, the French Socialist politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resigned in 2011 over sex assault charges that were later dropped.

It is the first time Lagarde has been called in for questioning in an investigation launched in 2011 which could become uncomfortable for her and the IMF if she is placed under formal investigation.

Lagarde has denied she did anything wrong when she ended a long-running court battle between the state and Tapie by agreeing to arbitration to settle the dispute.

But a court that specialises in cases involving ministers is targetting her in an investigation for complicity in misusing public funds when, as finance minister, she overruled objections from advisers to go ahead with the arbitration.

Lagarde, who has never benefitted personally from the affair, could be placed under formal investigation after the hearing, her lawyer said.

A formal investigation would be more serious than Lagarde's current status. Another outcome is her designation as an "assisted witness", an intermediary status.

Repiquet said her summons was routine.

"It's a non-event," he said. "It's normal that she is questioned ... I am not at all nervous about it."

Lagarde said in January that arbitration was the best solution at the time and stood by her decision. Left-wing lawmakers filed a complaint which led to the current legal case.

Lagarde's decision to accept arbitration meant the state paid Tapie 285 million euros ($371.70 million).

On Wednesday, an IMF spokesman said it would not be appropriate to comment on a case that was still being examined by a French court but Lagarde still had IMF board backing.

"The executive board has been briefed on this matter, including recently, and continues to express its confidence in the managing director's ability to effectively carry out her duties," the spokesman said.