'I was not negligent' claims IMF's Lagarde as trial opens


The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has appeared before a special court in Paris charged with negligence over her handling of a controversial arbitration process that paid out millions of euros of French taxpayers' money. Addressing a court reserved for government ministers, the former French economy minister denied wrongdoing but suggested she herself may have been “exploited” by others in relation to the 403 million euro award made to French tycoon Bernard Tapie in 2008. Mediapart's legal affairs correspondent Michel Deléan reports.

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The special court she is facing, the Cour de Justice de la République (CJR), is noted for its goodwill while the court's prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin is likely to ask for her to be found not guilty, having already stated she should not be facing trial at all. Nonetheless Christine Lagarde, currently managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is not in an comfortable situation. That was why from the beginning of her trial yesterday, Monday December 12th, the former French minister of the economy went to great pains to convince the three judges and twelve Parliamentarians who are trying her case that she was neither casual nor negligent in her handling of an arbitration panel that awarded French tycoon Bernard Tapie 403 million euros in 2008. Yet the charges against her are serious.

Lagarde is being tried in relation to “the misappropriation of public funds committed by a third party and resulting from the negligence” of a person in public office. If found guilty she risks a year's imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros under article 432-16 of the French criminal code. “Have we been exploited? I want to know. Have I been negligent? No,” insisted Lagarde at the outset of the trial, in a preliminary declaration in which she defended her honour and her reputation.The former minister said she was “shocked” by the legal judgement that accompanied the decision by investigating judges to send her for trial before the CJR, the only court which can try former French government ministers in relation to acts they carried out while in office. Lagarde said she had read “truncated” arguments, some “approximations” and even discerned some “aggressivity”, an “imaginary conspiracy theory” and “disdain for the separation of powers”. She was then put in her place by court president Martibne Ract-Madoux, who reminded the former minister that it was not yet the time for pleading one's case. It was also pointed out that while the IMF boss had indeed explained how she had lifted her own diplomatic immunity so she could appear in court, and how she was very anxious to speak – despite her lawyers' failed bid to get the proceedings stayed – it was not down to her to conduct the courtroom debates.