IMF chief Lagarde has been placed under formal investigation in France for her alleged role in a long-running political fraud case.
Christine Lagarde, 58, has been questioned about her role in awarding 400 million euro ($527 million) in compensation to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008. She denies wrongdoing.
She was finance minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government at the time of the award.
Bernard Tapie supported Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election.
He was once a majority shareholder in sports goods company Adidas but sold it in 1993 in order to become a cabinet minister in Francois Mitterrand’s Socialist government.
Bernard Tapie sued Credit Lyonnais over its handling of the sale, alleging the partly state-owned bank had defrauded him by deliberately undervaluing the company.
Christine Lagarde has been questioned about her role in awarding 400 million euro in compensation to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008 (photo Getty Images)
His case was later referred by Christine Lagarde to a three-member arbitration panel which awarded the compensation.
Investigators suspect he was granted a deal in return for his support of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Christine Lagarde said last year that her decision to refer Bernard Tapie’s long-running dispute with Credit Lyonnais to a panel of judges was “the best solution at the time”.
Although being placed under formal investigation does not necessarily lead to charges, the development could raise questions about the rest of her term at the IMF, which is due to end in 2016.
Christine Lagarde told AFP news agency she had no intention of resigning from the IMF.
She replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn as IMF managing director in 2011.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn – also a former French minister – resigned following his arrest in New York on charges of sexual assault that were later dropped.
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Christine Lagarde has arrived at a court in Paris for questioning over a payout to controversial tycoon Bernard Tapie during her time as finance minister.
The IMF chief is being asked to explain her handling of a row in 2007 which resulted in some 400 million euros ($516 million) being paid to Bernard Tapie.
She is appearing before the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which investigates ministerial misconduct.
Christine Lagarde insists the award was the best solution at the time.
“It’s a pleasure to see you,” a smiling she told reporters upon arrival.
Christine Lagarde could be placed under formal investigation for the decision to use arbitration, against advice from senior advisers, to settle a long-running court battle between the state and Bernard Tapie, a supporter of the then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Christine Lagarde has arrived at a court in Paris for questioning over a payout to controversial tycoon Bernard Tapie during her time as finance minister
The case stretches back to 1993 when Bernard Tapie, a colorful, controversial character in the French business world, sold his stake in sports company Adidas to Credit Lyonnais.
Soon after the bank sold on that stake for a much bigger profit, Bernard Tapie claimed they had defrauded him.
In 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested the finance ministry – which had been overseeing the dispute and was led by Christine Lagarde – should move the case to arbitration.
Bernard Tapie won a much bigger payout than he might have expected in court.
Christine Lagarde is not accused of profiting from the payout, but she is being questioned over the misuse of public funds.
If she is placed under formal investigation it is of course embarrassing. It is a step closer to trial but it does not necessarily mean the case will end up in court.
Christine Lagarde is still one of the most popular politicians on the right in France. And after the disgrace that was heaped on the last IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, few in France want to see another prominent French politician embarrassed on the world stage.
Some on the right wonder whether she could be a future candidate for first female French president, notably because she has stayed outside the conservative UMP party’s vicious in-fighting.
Christine Lagarde, a perfect English speaker, has never expressed a desire to run for president. But her five-year term at the IMF is due to finish in 2016 – a year before the next presidential election. With her acumen she may be a dangerous opponent for President Francois Hollande.
French police have searched the Paris apartment of IMF chief Christine Lagarde, as they investigate her role in awarding financial compensation to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008.
As finance minister, Christine Lagarde referred Bernard Tapie’s long-running dispute with bank Credit Lyonnais to an arbitration panel, which awarded him 400 million euros damages.
Bernard Tapie was a supporter of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Critics say Christine Lagarde abused her authority but she denies any wrongdoing.
“This search will help uncover the truth, which will contribute to exonerating my client from any criminal wrongdoing,” Christine Lagarde’s lawyer, Yves Repiquet, told the Reuters news agency.
Investigators suspect Bernard Tapie was granted a deal in return for his support of President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 election.
There is speculation in France that Christine Lagarde could yet be placed under formal investigation in this case.
As finance minister, Christine Lagarde referred Bernard Tapie’s long-running dispute with bank Credit Lyonnais to an arbitration panel, which awarded him 400 million euros damages
The origins of the case date back 20 years.
Bernard Tapie, who has long been active in French business, sporting and political circles, sued Credit Lyonnais over its handling of the sale in 1993 of sportswear brand Adidas, in which he was a majority stakeholder.
After years in the courts, the case was referred by Christine Lagarde to an arbitration panel in 2007 and she approved its decision to award damages.
Critics said the case should not have been settled by private arbitration, since public money was at stake in the bank, which was part-owned by the state.
The settlement Bernard Tapie received is believed to be a far greater sum than he would likely have received from the courts.
In an interview in January, Christine Lagarde stood by her decision, saying it was “the best solution at the time”.
Christine Lagarde replaced the disgraced IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested in New York in 2011 on allegations of attempted rape.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers settled a civil case for an undisclosed sum and a criminal investigation was dropped by US prosecutors last year.
However, Christine Lagarde’s position at the IMF could be in jeopardy if she is placed under formal investigation.
Christine Lagarde’s term as IMF chief does not expire until 2016, but amid the complexities of Europe’s economic crisis this is a distraction she can ill afford.
Bernard Tapie case
- 1993: Credit Lyonnais bank handles sale of Adidas, in which Bernard Tapie is a majority stakeholder
- 1993-2007: Court battle drags on as Bernard Tapie claims Credit Lyonnais undervalued the sale and that he was cheated following the winding-up of the once publicly-owned bank
- 2007: Bernard Tapie, a former Socialist, switches to support Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election. Christine Lagarde, Nicolas Sarkozy’s finance minister, intervenes in the Tapie case to order binding arbitration
- 2008: Special panel of judges rules Bernard Tapie should receive damages of 285 million euros (400 million after interest added)
- 2011: Public prosecutor recommends judicial investigation into her actions