By Chine Labbé
PARIS (Reuters) – IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Friday told the Paris court trying her for negligence that she had always acted in good faith and that the suspicion that she had lived under for the past five years had been an “ordeal”.
Lagarde, 60, faces charges, which she denies, of being negligent when, as French finance minister, she approved in 2008 a payout to businessman Bernard Tapie in an out-of-court settlement which cost the French taxpayer 400 million euros ($425 million).
If convicted when the decision is announced next Monday, Lagarde could face up to a year in jail and a fine of 15,000 euros though the special court she faces has never passed a jail sentence on anyone in 23 years of existence.
Conviction or severe censure could raise questions about her ability to conduct her work at the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, one of the pillars of the global financial system.
Prosecutors, who never wanted Lagarde to stand trial, on Thursday urged the court to acquit her. The special court hearing her case went ahead.
“These five days of trial have brought to an end a five-year ordeal,” Lagarde said, her voice cracking with emotion, as she delivered her final comments to the court.
The charges allege that Lagarde showed negligence, leading to misuse of public funds, by accepting too easily the costly arbitration settlement with Tapie and not contesting it to the benefit of the state.
“I acted in good faith and good conscience with the sole aim of defending the general interest,” Lagarde said. “I should have taken account of all possible risks. I tried to do that but … the risk of fraud never occurred to me at all,” she said.
Lagarde, who has withstood aggressive questioning during the hearing, earlier this week said she had accepted the Tapie settlement in the best interests of the state and to draw a line under an affair that had dragged on for 15 years.
The 15 judges who make up the Republic’s Court of Justice, a special court which judges ministers, withdrew to consider their verdict on Friday.
Lagarde’s decision in 2008 not to challenge the arbitration settlement with Tapie ran against the counsel of a government body that regulate state corporate holdings.
But her defence has argued that she was not kept sufficiently informed of the case by her aides.
(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Richard Balmforth Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)