IMF chief Christine Lagarde pledged to fight charges of negligence, "allegation by allegation", when she went on trial in Paris on Monday over her role in a huge state payout to a French tycoon in 2008.
Lagarde, 60, was France's finance minister in the government of then president Nicolas Sarkozy when she approved an out-of-court settlement with businessman Bernard Tapie to end a long-running dispute between the magnate and the French state.
The decision to accept an extremely rare private arbitration ended up costing French taxpayers more than 400 million euros ($424 million) in a payout to Tapie.
Accused of negligence leading to misuse of public funds, Lagarde denies any wrongdoing. She risks up to a year in jail and a fine of 15,000 euros ($15,895) if convicted.
Were it to happen, a maximum sentence could raise questions about the widely respected policymaker's ability to continue as head of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, where her French predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn quit in 2011 over a sex assault scandal.
Lagarde 'self-assured and calm' on first day of trial
"I would like to show you that I am in no way guilty of negligence, but rather that I acted in good faith with only the public interest in mind," she said in the opening hearing.
"Was I negligent? No. And I will strive to convince you allegation by allegation," Lagarde said, expressing surprise at the harsh tone of the charges against her.
"Have I been deceived, or have several of us been deceived? I would like to know," she asked, suggesting she may have been misled by ill-intentioned people.
'Conjunction of faults'
The case revolves around a 403 million-euro ($425 million) arbitration deal given to Tapie in 2008 over the botched sale of sportswear maker Adidas in the 1990s. The amount of the award prompted indignation in France.
Investigating judges contend that Lagarde committed a series of serious errors when she made the arbitration choice and again when she later refused to challenge the deal, suggesting she may have been influenced by the political connections between Tapie and Sarkozy.
"Ms. Lagarde's behavior proceeds not only from a questionable carelessness and precipitation, but also from a conjunction of faults which, by their nature, number and seriousness, exceed the level of mere negligence," the judges wrote at the end of their investigation.
Her trial is only the fifth to be held before the Cour de Justice de la République, a special tribunal created in 1993 to try cabinet ministers.
A panel of 15, including 12 lawmakers from both the lower and upper houses of parliament, will hear the case, which is scheduled to run until December 20.
They are expected to focus on correspondence between Lagarde and her staff as well as the government body that manages state corporate holdings, which advised against private arbitration.
Civil courts have since quashed the award to Tapie, declaring the arbitration process and deal fraudulent and ordering the tycoon to pay the money back.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2016-12-13