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CRIME

French court summons IMF’s Lagarde

IMF chief Christine Lagarde has been summoned to testify in a French court, her lawyer confirmed on Thursday. Lagarde will give evidence as part of a probe into a €285 million arbitration payment made to businessman Bernard Tapie when she was a government minister.

French court summons IMF's Lagarde
Photo: AFP

IMF chief Christine Lagarde is to be grilled by a special court investigating suspected corruption dating from her time as French finance minister, her lawyer said Thursday.

Lagarde, who took over at the International Monetary Fund in 2011 when the previous boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn stepped down over a sex scandal, has been ordered to appear before the court at the end of May.

She will have to answer allegations that she acted improperly in the handling of a financial dispute that resulted in around €400 million being paid by the state to disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie.

Prosecutors working for the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR) – a body established to try cases of ministerial misconduct – suspect Tapie received favourable treatment in return for supporting Lagarde's then boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections.

They have described Lagarde's handling of the case as "questionable" and suggested she was partly responsible for "numerous anomalies and irregularities" which could lead to charges for complicity in fraud and misappropriation of public funds.

Lagarde's Paris home was raided by CJR officials last month but she has not yet been charged with any crime. The IMF has stood by her and her lawyer insisted she would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"As has been expected for several months, the court wishes to question Madame Lagarde," her lawyer, Yves Repiquet, told AFP. "A hearing will be held at the end of May.

"Mme Lagarde will finally have the opportunity to provide the court with explanations and clarifications that will exonerate her of any criminal responsibility."

The investigation is centred on Lagarde's 2007 decision to ask a panel of judges to arbitrate in a dispute between Tapie and Credit Lyonnais – the collapsed, partly state-owned bank – over his 1993 sale of sports group Adidas.

The arbitration resulted in the payout to Tapie, a former politician and businessman who went to prison for match-fixing during his time as president of France's biggest football club, Olympique Marseille.

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CRIME

French police break-up fake Bordeaux wine ring

Police investigating drug-trafficking in south west France have broken up a counterfeit Bordeaux wine ring following an eight-month investigation.

French police break-up fake Bordeaux wine ring

Prosecutors said that 100 gendarmes were involved in an operation to arrest up to 20 suspects in seven départements after the fake wine scam was discovered when fake wine labels were discovered by officers investigating a drugs ring. 

During searches, a dozen vehicles and, “a large volume of wine” were seized, they added.

They estimated that several hundred thousand bottles of Spanish wine had been passed off as being from the Médoc wine region of France.

Investigations involving a dedicated police unit revealed “a large-scale fraud organised by the owner of a vineyard in the Médoc”, police said, who obtained wine via “Spanish contacts”, bottled it at night and put fake labels on the bottles.

The fake wines were then sold “by the pallet” in several areas via “a network of official and unofficial distributors made up of companies, pensioners and self-employed people”, according to prosecutors. 

Orders amounting to several thousand bottles were sent abroad, with customers believing they were buying Bordeaux chateau wines at bargain prices, prosecutors said, when the bottles really contained “low-end wines …. from remote areas”.

Three suspects, including someone described as the ‘main instigator’ appeared before an examining magistrate on Wednesday and was charged with a variety of offences linked to fraud.

A source close to the case told AFP that the counterfeiting targeted mid-range Médoc wines, which are easier to counterfeit than the grand crus. 

“If the facts are proven, we hope that the perpetrators will be heavily condemned because these practices harm the image of Bordeaux wines and the image of all those who work well and respect the rules,” reacted the Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux Wine contacted by AFP.

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