IMF chief Christine Lagarde will face questions in court next month over a huge state payout made when she was France’s finance minister. Authorities searched her home last month as part of the investigation.
Lagarde has been ordered to appear in a special court to answer questions over the payment, of 285 million euros ($371.8 million), to businessman and former politician Bernard Tapie, a supporter of Lagarde’s ex-boss, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The investigation is looking into whether Lagarde abused her authority as finance minister when she referred the dispute between Tapie and the state to binding arbitration. Lagarde reportedly overruled objections from advisers to go ahead with the arbitration.
The dispute stemmed from Tapie’s accusations that the former state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais defrauded him in the sale of his share in the sportswear company Adidas in 1993.
Prosecutors suspect Tapie, who served time in jail for match fixing during his time as president of the Olympique Marseille football club, may have received favorable treatment in return for supporting Sarkozy in the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections.
The payout Tapie received allowed him to clear huge debts, and media reports say a leftover sum of between 20 and 40 million euros ($26-52 million) financed his career relaunch.
Critics say the state should not have taken the risk of being made to pay compensation to a former bankrupt and convicted criminal, who at the time did not have the means to pursue the case. The current case is as a result of a complaint filed by left-wing lawmakers.
No surprise for Lagarde
Lagarde, who has not been charged with any crime, said there was “nothing new under the sun” and she had anticipated she would be called to testify. Officials from the Court of Justice of the Republic raided her Paris home last month.
“Ever since 2011, I have known very well that I would be heard by the investigating commission of the Cour de Justice,” she said on Thursday in Washington.
“A day 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,” Lagarde said.
The head of the International Monetary Fund took the top job in 2011, taking over from former French Socialist politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned over sex assault charges that were later dropped.
On Wednesday, an IMF spokesperson said Lagarde had the board’s backing but would not comment on the case as it was before the court.
jr/ rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)