- Lagarde, 57, appears in front of special tribunal of judges in Paris
- Widely expected to be charged with fraud and embezzlement
- Relates to £270m payout to Bernard Tapie when she was finance minister
- Government minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem says she will be asked to quit if placed under investigation by Court of Justice of the Republic
- Denies any wrongdoing and lawyer said she expects case to be dismissed
A French government minister last night called on Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, to resign if she is charged with fraud and embezzlement.
She was questioned by magistrates in Paris yesterday over a £340million payout of public money five years ago to convicted conman Bernard Tapie.
As she appeared in court, there were calls for her to stand down from her high-profile £305,000-a-year job if she is charged.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Minister for Women’s Rights, said: ‘Knowing the IMF and the way this type of institution works, I tend to think that if she was placed under investigation, she would without doubt be asked to quit her post.’
Last night the court adjourned after 13 hours sitting but it was widely predicted Mrs Lagarde, 57, would be placed under investigation by the Court of Justice of the Republic, equivalent to a suspect being charged in the UK.
She faces allegations that she stepped in to settle a long- running legal battle in which Tapie claimed he was cheated out of millions by Credit Lyonnais bank over the 1993 sale of his sportswear company Adidas.
Mrs Lagarde ordered a panel of judges to arbitrate and they awarded Tapie 400million euros (£340million) in damages paid from taxpayers’ money. Prosecutors suspect Tapie received favourable treatment in return for supporting ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential elections.
They have suggested that Mrs Lagarde – who was France’s Finance Minister at the time and the first woman ever to hold the post – was partly responsible for ‘numerous anomalies and irregularities’ which could amount to complicity in fraud and misappropriation of public funds.
There is no suggestion Mrs Lagarde profited personally in any way from the final settlement.
The affair has become a huge embarrassment to France and the IMF.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to quit the IMF two years ago after being accused of trying to rape a hotel chambermaid in New York, charges which were later dropped.
Mrs Lagarde took over from ‘DSK’ almost two years ago, in July 2011.
Her grilling by prosecutors comes after police raided her £1million Paris apartment in March.
Mrs Lagarde’s lawyer, Yves Repiquet, said the inquiry was ‘in no way incompatible’ with her new job, adding that he expected the case to be dismissed.
She has denied any wrongdoing, saying: ‘If it’s decided to continue with this inquiry it won’t be particularly surprising. Personally, it doesn’t worry me at all – I didn’t benefit personally.’
But it has been widely reported in the French media that investigators intend to charge her with fraud and embezzlement.
Le Monde reported that magistrates had already written to Mrs Lagarde to tell her not to expect any special treatment because of her high-profile international job.
Tapie was jailed for six months in 1997 for corruption and match- fixing while he was the owner of Marseilles football club.