IMF head ordered to stand trial in €400m payment scandal

A French court has ordered International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director and a former French finance minister Christine Lagarde to stand trial for her alleged role in a 2008 scandal involving business magnate Bernard Tapie, reports said on Thursday.

France's Court of Justice of the Republic, which handles the trials of government officials, decided to reopen the investigation into "complicity in forgery and embezzlement of public funds" in the Tapie case, two months after a prosecutor demanded the charges against her be dropped, Xinhua reported.

Lagarde said she would appeal the decision to send her to trial over a €400m payment made to French businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008.

"A decision like this is incomprehensible," her lawyer Yves Repiquet said. "I sent her a text, she was really surprised and very disappointed," he added.

Lagarde, who was in Washington, said in a statement, released by adviser Marc Vanghelder that she "always acted in this affair in the interest of the state and in respect of the law". She said Lagarde has asked her lawyers to launch an appeal over the court's decision.

Lagarde, 59, has been investigated 14 months after, in August 2011, for her role in awarding financial compensation of 405 million euros ($438.14 million) to Tapie in his dispute with Credit Lyonnais on the acquisition of Adidas in 2008.

In May 2013, Lagarde, a former lawyer, was named as an "assisted witness" in the corruption probe, leaving the possibility for her being charged later. Lagarde, however, maintained her innocence since the investigation began in 2011.

Tapie, who was also under formal investigation, was ordered earlier this month to pay the 405 million euros to Credit Lyonnais.

France's finance minister Michel Sapin expressed support for Lagarde and said the IMF chief should remain in her post despite being ordered to stand trial in France over her role in a controversial payout of state funds in a commercial dispute.

Reports said the Court of Justice of the Republic has decided that she has a case to answer. A spokesman at the court, however, did not give details of the lengthy written decision. It is also not exactly known which charges are retained and what would be the penalties if the charges against her are proved.

Lagarde's lawyers have five days after the formal notification of the decision to lodge an appeal.