Christine Lagarde in court over €400m payout to French tycoon

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Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on trial accused of negligence over a €400m (£335m) payment made to a French tycoon while she was the country’s finance minister.

Lagarde approved the payment from public funds to the businessman Bernard Tapie, who was a friend of the then president, Nicolas Sarkozy. 

This “negligence by a person in a position of public authority” constituted a misuse of public funds, according to prosecutors.

Lagarde, who arrived for the hearing shortly before 2pm, faces up to a year in jail and a €15,000 fine if convicted.

The president of the court asked Lagarde how she intended to defend herself and if she wished to exercise her right to remain silent. “I have no intention of keeping silent, madame la presidente,” Lagarde replied.

Speaking earlier on Monday, Lagarde, 60,said she was confident, she had done nothing wrong. She denied she had shown Tapie favourable treatment or awarded the controversial payout on Sarkozy’s orders.

“Negligence is a non-intentional offence. I think we are all a bit negligent sometimes in our life. I have done my job as well as I could, within the limits of what I knew,” Lagarde told France 2 television.

Lagarde, who was finance minister from 2007-11, when she became IMF’s managing director, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Tapie, the former owner of the Olympique de Marseilles football club and former pop and television star, was awarded the money in a two-decade legal wrangle with the French public bank Crédit Lyonnais. He accused the bank of undervaluing his majority stake in Adidas at a time when the sports company was partly state-owned.

Lagarde took the unusual step of referring the case to private arbitration and making an out-of-court settlement, which caused a public outcry. Detectives have been looking into whether Tapie was offered a deal in return for supporting Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential bid.

A Paris appeal court has ordered Tapie to reimburse the money, but he has appealed against the ruling and the case is ongoing.

Tapie, his lawyer, the arbitration judge who approved the award, and Stéphane Richard, Lagarde’s former ministerial chief of staff who is now head of the Orange telecoms company, are under investigation for fraud and misuse of public funds.

Lagarde’s lawyers have asked for her hearing to be suspended until the investigation into Tapie and the others has finished.

In September 2015, the French government recommended the case against Lagarde should be dropped,but judges insisted on a trial.

The case is being heard at the Cour de Justice de la République, a special court set up to judge ministers and public officials for crimes allegedly committed while in office. It is made up of three judges and 12 politicians from the French houses of parliament.

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