The director of the IMF and former French finance minister Christine Lagarde has been formally placed under investigation for negligence by a court in France.
It concerns a payment of 400 million euros made by the state to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008, a payment tainted by political fraud.
“I have demanded that my lawyer use every legal means at his disposal to contest this decision, which I consider to be totally unfounded. I shall be returning to work in Washington this afternoon,” she defiantly said in Paris on Thursday.
Tapie is a highly controversial figure, a pop singer in the 1960s, then an asset-stripping entrepreneur and owner of Marseille FC football team, who won the 1993 European Cup while under his control. He was also co-opted into the Socialist government of François Mitterrand.
He had previously attempted an entry into politics via the local branch of the conservative RPR party, but was rebuffed.
On Mitterrand’s urging from 1987 to 1993 Tapie engaged in local politics in Marseille. It was during this time he took on the French far-right in a manner never seen before in French politics.
In essence, he fought the then-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen with his own weapons of populism, invective, and pugnacious public-speaking. He even committed what in any political analyst’s book would normally be ballot-box suicide by insulting FN voters directly, calling them “bastards”, for which he has pointedly never apologised. He was elected as a member of parliament for Marseille.
Obliged to sell assets in 1992 on becoming a minister which were later sold on for a huge profit by the then state-owned Credit Lyonnais, Tapie demanded compensation. But by then he had already fallen into shame. His European Cup triumph was revealed as tainted by corruption, he was declared bankrupt, and in 1995 he went to jail for his part in bribing players.
Come 2008 however he was supporting President Sarkozy, the reason for the payout say critics. Tapie said it was because he had little confidence in the Socialist candidate, Segolene Royale.
Lagarde has previously refused to recognise her hand behind the signature signing off the payment, although former colleagues at the finance ministry said she was fully aware of the entire process.