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Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:47 PM

Christine Lagarde, Head of IMF, In Court Facing Questions on Embezzlement and Fraud

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Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, is in court today addressing her role in a $366 million payout to Bernard Tapie, a close friend of former president Nicolas Sarkozy who was also Lagarde's boss at the time. Lagarde was Sarkozy's finance minister.

Reuters reports IMF's Lagarde in court for French arbitration case.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde was questioned in court by French magistrates on Thursday over her role in a 285-million-euro ($366 million) arbitration payment made to a supporter of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Lagarde risks being placed under formal investigation at the hearing for her 2007 decision as Sarkozy's finance minister to use arbitration to settle a long-running court battle between the state and high-profile businessman Bernard Tapie.

Under French law, that step would mean there exists "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime. It is one step closer to trial but a number of such investigations have been dropped without any trial.

In Paris, Lagarde flashed a smile at waiting media as she arrived at court with her lawyer and said: "It's a pleasure to see you."

They were not expected to emerge until the end of the day's proceedings, which could run into late evening. The decision on whether to place her under investigation or give her "supervised witness" status will be announced at the end of the hearing, which could last into Friday.

Lagarde is not accused of financially profiting herself from the payout and has denied doing anything wrong by opting for an arbitration process that enriched Tapie. With interest, the award amounted to 403 million euros.

However a court specializing in cases involving ministers is targeting her for complicity in the misuse of funds because she overruled advisers to seek the settlement.
If Lagarde is formally charged with embezzlement or fraud, she may be asked to resign as head of IMF whether she is convicted or not.

It's difficult to say how much of this is political maneuvering by current French president Francois Hollande, but it's equally difficult to dismiss the charges outright.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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