Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

International Monetary Fund's managing director Christine Lagarde convicted of negligence

The International Monetary Fund's managing director was convicted Monday of negligence by a special French court for her role in a contentious and generous arbitration award in 2008 to a politically connected tycoon.

But Christine Lagarde, who was France's finance minister at the time, was spared jail time and a criminal record. She had risked a year of imprisonment and a fine.

The guilty verdict, even without punishment, tarnishes Lagarde's impressive career as one of the most powerful women in world finance. It raised immediate doubts about whether the IMF's first female managing director will be able to continue in that job she has held since 2011.

The Washington-based IMF said after Monday's verdict that its executive board would meet soon "to consider the most recent developments."

The case revolves around a 403 million euro ($425 million) arbitration deal given to tycoon Bernard Tapie in 2008 over the botched sale of sportswear maker Adidas in the 1990s. The amount prompted indignation in France.

Civil courts have since quashed the unusually generous award, declared the arbitration process and deal fraudulent and ordered Tapie to pay the money back.

In deciding not to sentence Lagarde, the court noted that the award to Tapie has since been annulled, sparing damage to the public purse. It also noted by way of explaining the lack of a sentence that Lagarde was caught up at the time in the storm of financial crisis that engulfed the global economy.

The court also said that Lagarde's "personality and national and international reputation" counted in her favor.

The Court of Justice of the Republic, made up of three judges and 12 parliamentarians, tries cases concerning ministers for alleged crimes while in office.

Lagarde, not present for the verdict, maintained her innocence through the weeklong trial. The prosecutor had asked for an acquittal in the case, which began in 2011.

Christopher Baker, one of Lagarde's lawyers, wouldn't speculate on any potential effect of the verdict on Lagarde's high-flying career. A lawyer herself, she served as French finance minister from 2007 to 2011, when she took her job as head of the IMF.

"There is no sentence, which means there's no record of this," he told the Associated Press. "The result of this last five years is nothing, which leaves us in kind of a complicated and strange situation."

The special court acquitted Lagarde of negligence in her original decision to put the Tapie case to arbitration. But it found her guilty in a subsequent decision not to contest the amount of the arbitration award.

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