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Lagarde named ‘key witness’ in France bribe probe

Christine Lagarde (photo courtesy of the IMF)A French court has decided not to formally investigate IMF chief Christine Lagarde over her role in a controversial payoff while she was finance minister but did name her as a key witness in the continuing probe.

The court’s action Friday came after prosecutors questioned Lagarde for two days about her 2007 decision that led to the payment of about $500 million to settle a legal battle between the state and a close friend of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Her status as key witness in the corruption probe leaves open the possibility that Lagarde could be charged at a later date if new evidence comes to light.

Lagarde told reporters after leaving the court Friday that she was able to provide information to demonstrate that she always acted in the best public interest and in accordance with the law.

“I have just been heard by the investigating magistrates of the Court of Justice in a very complex and longstanding case that has opposed the liquidators of Bernard Tapie Group to Credit Lyonnais. Through this process, I was able to provide information to demonstrate that I have always acted in the best interest of the State and in accordance with the law. My status of assisted witness confirms this. Now it’s time for me to return to Washington, to pursue my mission as managing director of the IMF and to report to my board. Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much.”

The payment was made to businessman Bernard Tapie as part of a private arbitration process to settle a dispute with state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over a failed sale of Adidas in the 1990s.

Investigators opened an inquiry in 2011 into possible charges of complicity to embezzlement of public funds.

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