Emotional IMF chief tells trial she acted in France’s interests

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(AFP) An emotional Christine Lagarde told her trial for negligence Friday she acted in good faith in approving a massive state pay out to a tycoon when she was French finance minister.

Christine Lagarde (Photo: AP)
Christine Lagarde (Photo: AP)

On the last day of her trial in a Paris court, the IMF chief insisted she did no wrong in authorising the 404-million-euro payment to Bernard Tapie to settle a long-running dispute between the businessman and the state.

At issue is Lagarde’s decision to allow the dispute to be resolved by arbitration and her later failure to contest the huge award linked to Tapie’s sale of the Adidas sports brand to the state-owned Credit Lyonnais bank.

“In this case, as in all other cases, I acted according to trust and with the knowledge of the facts and my sole aim was to defend the general interest,” Lagarde told the court.

“The risk of fraud completely escaped me,” she said.

The Court of Justice of the Republic — a tribunal that hears cases against ministers accused of wrongdoing in office — will give its verdict at 1400 GMT on Monday.

Lagarde, 60, fought back tears as she said the trial was the culmination of a “testing” time for her family.

“These five days of hearings represent the end of five testing years for my partner, my sons and my brothers who are in the courtroom,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

If convicted, she could face a year in prison and a 15,000 euro ($16,700) fine.

The case also threatens the credibility of the IMF, as the high-flying former corporate lawyer is the third of the organisation’s chiefs to face trial.

The prosecutor said Thursday he was opposed to convicting Lagarde, judging the evidence to support the charge of negligence too flimsy.

“The hearings have not backed up a very weak charge,” Jean-Claude Marin told the court.

The prosecutor’s office had advised against bringing the case to trial.

Lagarde had only been in government for three years when she waved through the settlement to Tapie in 2008.

The awarded aroused concerns given Tapie’s vocal support for Lagarde’s then boss, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The pay-out was subsequently cancelled by the courts.

Tapie sold Adidas to Credit Lyonnais for the equivalent of 315.5 million euros in 1993. The bank sold it on the following year for 701 million euros, leading Tapie to claim he had been cheated.

Lagarde has been in court every day since Monday to defend herself against accusations that she failed to stand in the way of a “colossal” drain on state resources.

She told the court she trusted the judgement of her subordinates in the process and had been out of the loop for some of the negotiations in the ministry and in the president’s office.

Another former IMF chief, Spaniard Rodrigo Rato, is currently standing trial on charges of misusing funds when he was head of Spanish lender Bankia.

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