IMF chief La­garde stays con­fi­dent ahead of neg­li­gence trial

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Paris

IMF chief Chris­tine La­garde went on trial in France on Mon­day over a mas­sive state pay­out to a flam­boy­ant ty­coon when she was fi­nance min­is­ter in a case that risks tar­nish­ing her ca­reer.

La­garde de­nies the charges of neg­li­gence, ar­gu­ing she was act­ing “in the state’s in­ter­est” in mak­ing the pay­ment to Bernard Tapie, the former owner of sports­wear gi­ant Adi­das and the Olympique Marseille foot­ball club.

If found guilty, La­garde could re­ceive a one-year prison sen­tence and a $15,900 fine.

What­ever the out­come, the case risks dam­ag­ing the im­age of 60-year-old La­garde, a former cor­po­rate lawyer who pro­gressed through the Fi­nance Min­istry to her cur­rent role as one of the world’s most pow­er­ful women.

The In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund has given its full back­ing to La­garde, who was named to a sec­ond term in Fe­bru­ary this year, over the case.

She will be tried by the Court of Jus­tice of the Repub­lic, a tri­bunal that hears cases against min­is­ters ac­cused of wrong­do­ing in the dis­charge of their du­ties.

The ac­cu­sa­tions stem from La­garde’s han­dling of a dis­pute with Tapie, a former gov­ern­ment min­is­ter who claimed a state bank had de­frauded him in its sale of adi­das.

Tapie’s deals

Tapie, now 73, owned the firm be­tween 1990 and 1993 but lost con­trol of it after he went bank­rupt. He also owned Marseille when they won the 1993 Euro­pean Cup, the fore­run­ner of the Cham­pi­ons League, but they were later em­broiled in a match-fix­ing scan­dal.

La­garde, upon be­com­ing fi­nance min­is­ter in 2007 un­der the newly elected pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, or­dered that Tapie’s long-run­ning bat­tle with the state be re­solved by ar­bi­tra­tion.

The de­ci­sion was hugely costly, with Tapie ini­tially walk­ing away with a stag­ger­ing $427 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion in 2008. After a lengthy court bat­tle, he has since been or­dered to re­pay the money.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pect the ar­bi­tra­tion process was rigged in fa­vor of Tapie, who had sup­ported Sarkozy in his 2007 elec­tion cam­paign.

La­garde, who served as fi­nance min­is­ter un­til 2011, has al­ways in­sisted she acted in France’s best in­ter­est.

Al­though she is not ac­cused of per­son­ally prof­it­ing from the pay­ment, she has been crit­i­cized for fail­ing to chal­lenge the award. The prose­cu­tion said that through her ac­tions, La­garde “de­prived the state of a chance to avoid this money be­ing mis­used”.

BJORN LINDGRE / TT NEWS AGENCY VIA AFP

Chris­tine La­garde, IMF chief

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