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French Finance Minister announces bid to head IMF

French Foreign Minister Christine Lagarde announced on Wednesday her intention to run for the next head of the International Monetary Fund following the resignation of fellow Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn last week.


French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde entered the race to head the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday, seeking to replace former chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last week amid sexual assault accusations.

"It is an immense challenge which I approach with humility and in the hope of achieving the broadest possible consensus," Lagarde told a Paris news conference, saying she planned to travel extensively in the coming weeks to consult other member states.

If elected, the 55-year-old centre-right politician would be the first woman to lead the Washington-based international lending organisation since its foundation in 1945.

- Born January 1, 1956, in Paris

- 1981: Joins the Paris branch of the law firm Baker & McKenzie

- 1999: Transfers to Chicago as head of Baker & McKenzie’s executive committee

- 2002: The Wall Street Journal ranks Lagarde as the fifth most powerful European businesswoman

- 2005: Becomes French  Minister of Trade in Dominique de Villepin’s government

- 2007: Becomes Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries

- 2007: Becomes Minister for Economy and Employment

- May 25, 2011: Announces her candidacy as next IMFchief

Before joining politics in 2005, the dapper grey-haired finance minister spent much of her career as a lawyer in the United States, where she headed the Baker and McKenzie law firm in Chicago.

Lagarde has won praise and respect from international leaders for her deftness to broker international deals under pressure during France‘s G20 presidency. She played a key role in bringing the IMF and the European Union to agree on rescue plans for debt-ridden EU members Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Many European countries, including Germany, UK and Italy, are backing Lagarde’s candidacy. The US has yet to announce the candidate it backs.

Since its creation, the IMF has been continually led by a European as per an informal agreement under which the US nominates the World Bank president. Four of the ten IMF chiefs in history were French.

However, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries known as BRICS, have called for a break in this tradition. ``We feel it is outrageous to have the post reserved for a European,'' said Nogueira Batista, IMF executive director from Brazil and one of the signatories of the BRICS joint statement.

The IMF's 24-member board is due to draw up a shortlist of three candidates before the June 30 deadline for picking a successor. Nominations for the leadership of the 187-member organisation are open until June 10.

The notorious tycoon

Lagarde’s announcement comes amid a French judicial inquiry into her alleged involvement in cash handouts to a notorious French Tycoon.

According to the allegations, Lagarde mediated in 2007 a case between Bernard Tapie, a former singer, socialist minister and football club owner, and French bank Credit Lyonnais over the sales of Adidas shares in 1993.

The dispute ended in 2008 with Tapie, a former bankrupt who was jailed in the 90s for match fixing, awarded 285 million euros.

Members of the opposition Socialist Party (PS) have called for a judicial inquiry, and a select panel of judges has until mid-June to decide whether an investigation should be launched.

But while it was Lagarde’s decision as Finance Minister, some opposition members believe Sarkozy was behind it, and that he was using Lagarde to reward Tapie for supporting his successful 2007 presidential bid.

Lagarde on Wednesday dismissed the accusations, insisting she has “a perfectly clear conscience”.

Strauss-Kahn's predicament comes at an opportune time for Sarkozy, who will face a presidential election in a year's time. Known by his initials DSK and whose legal process is being closely followed in France, the former IMF chief was tipped to win the PS’s US-style primaries later this year as the candidate with the best chances to beat Sarkozy in the vote.

DSK was believed to be on the cusp of announcing his candidacy for the presidential election when he was arrested in New York.


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