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April 18, 2013

IMF Chief Summoned Before French Court

by Lisa Bryant

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde has been summoned to appear before a French court next month in connection with her handling of a political scandal during her past job as French finance minister.

​​The summons could pave the way for a formal investigation of IMF chief Christine Lagarde, whose Paris apartment was raided by French police last month. The French court is seeking to determine whether Lagarde misused public funds when she helped broker a $520 million settlement for businessman Bernard Tapie to end a long-running legal battle between him and the state.

Tapie was a friend of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy - who was Lagarde's boss when she served as finance minister. She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Lagarde has earned widespread praise as the IMF's first female head. Among other issues, she has been a key player in bailout talks with indebted European countries. She took over the job from another Frenchman, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who resigned amid a sexual assault scandal in New York. Those charges were later dropped.

A court summons in France does not necessarily lead to charges. Nor does it suggest Lagarde is presumed guilty. Analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges, of the French Institute of International Relations, believes the summons will not weaken Lagarde's tenure at the IMF.

"Mrs. Lagarde is in a strong position because now she's a very respected leader," he said. "She has tried to intervene in the international debate, but in a very cautious, very reserved way. That's why I don't think she will be affected."

Lagarde is also very popular in France, where she led a recent poll on women with a political future. Some even speculate she may eventually run for French president - but analyst Defarges doesn't give her much chance of winning.

"Really, it's impossible. Of course, she will run [on] the right, and the right is so divided today…and probably when Mrs. Lagarde will really run for the presidency I think many people will fight against her," said Defarges.

The IMF has so far not commented on Lagarde's summons. Her lawyer in Paris has told the media she is expected to appear before a French magistrate at the end of May.