French businessman on trial over Sarkozy-era payout

PARIS: Flamboyant French businessman Bernard Tapie went on trial on Monday accused of defrauding the state of nearly half a billion euros with a massive 2008 arbitration award that landed IMF chief Christine Lagarde in hot water.
The 76-year-old former Socialist minister, who rose from humble beginnings to build up a sporting and media empire that once included the Olympique de Marseille (OM) football club, is one of six people on trial in the latest chapter of a two-decade legal saga that has ensnared a slew of senior officials, including ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
It centres on a payment of 404 million euros ($454 million) awarded to Tapie by an arbitration panel to settle a dispute over the state’s sale of Adidas, the German sporting goods company which Tapie briefly owned.
The amount of the award sent shockwaves through France but Lagarde, France’s economy minister at the time, decided not to appeal it — a decision for which she was found guilty of negligence by a court.
Her handling of the case sparked suspicion that her former boss Sarkozy, whom Tapie had backed for president in 2007, was favourably disposed towards the businessman — allegations Sarkozy vehemently denied. In 2017, a court ordered Tapie to pay back the money after finding the settlement to be fraudulent.
But the case against the tycoon himself has only now come to trial.
Over the next four weeks he, his former lawyer Maurice Lantourne and one of the three adjudicators behind the payout, Pierre Estoup, will defend themselves against charges that they connived to rig the arbitration process in the businessman’s favour. — AFP

Oman Observer