International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde went on trial in Paris on Monday over her role in a 400 million euro ($424 million) payout of French taxpayer money to businessman Bernard Tapie in 2008.
Lagarde, 60, was France’s finance minister in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy when she approved an out-of-court settlement with Tapie to end a long-running dispute between the magnate and the French state.
Accused of negligence leading to misuse of public funds, she who denies any wrongdoing. She risks up to a year in jail and a fine of 15,000 euros ($15,895) if convicted.
Were it to happen, a maximum sentence could raise questions about the widely respected policymaker’s ability to continue as head of the Washington-based IMF, where her predecessor France’s Dominique Strauss Kahn, quit in 2011 over a sex assault scandal.
On the eve of Monday’s trial opening, Lagarde told France 2 public television she was confident and she denied favoring Tapie or having acted on Sarkozy’s orders.
“Negligence is a non-intentional offence. I think we are all a bit negligent sometimes in our life. I have done my job as well as I could, within the limits of what I knew,” she said.
Investigators have said that Lagarde’s behavior in the case when beyond simple carelessness.
Her trial is only the fifth to be held before the Cour de Justice de la Republique, a special tribunal created in 1993 to try cabinet ministers.
A panel of 15, including 12 lawmakers from both the lower and upper houses of parliament, will hear the case, which is scheduled to run until Dec. 20.
They are expected to focus on correspondence between Lagarde and her staff as well as the government body that manages state corporate holdings, which advised against private arbitration.
The case dates back to a time when Tapie sued the state for compensation after selling his stake in sports company Adidas to then state-owned Credit Lyonnais in 1993.
He accused the bank of defrauding him after it resold its stake for a much higher price. With case stuck in the courts, the two sides agreed to private settlement and Tapie was awarded in 2008 a 403 million euro payout, including interest.