5 Aug 2011

IMF head Lagarde faces inquiry

8:20 am on 5 August 2011

The new head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, is facing an investigation in France for possible abuse of authority when she was the country's Finance Minister.

A French court ordered the probe over Ms Largarde's approval of a settlement to a businessman friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She is accused of wrongly pressing a bank to enter binding arbitration over a dispute with a businessman who supported President Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign.

Ms Lagarde denies misconduct, the BBC reports, and there is no suggestion she profited personally.

The IMF has expressed confidence that she will be able to carry out her duties.

Ms Lagarde took over as IMF managing director from Dominique Strauss-Kahn last month following his arrest on charges of the attempted rape of a New York hotel maid.

Prosecutors say Ms Lagarde abused her authority by approving a 285 million euro payment to businessman Bernard Tapie, a former left-wing minister who switched sides to support Mr Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election.

At the time Mr Tapie was in a court battle with former state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais, which he alleged had defrauded him in 1993 sale of his stake in the sports clothing business Adidas.

He had lost the case in the country's highest court but was appealing against the decision.

Some months later, the new Finance Minister, Ms Lagarde, overruled objections from her officials and intervened in the judicial case, pushing the bank and Mr Tapie into binding arbitration.

Ms Lagarde's lawyer says suspicion has been cast by a handful of opposition members of parliament for political ends.