The Tapie affair reveals an ever widening web of accomplices

A relationship reminiscent of that between Rebekah Brookes and David Cameron has come to light between Nicolas Sarkozy and Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister and current head of the IMF. Lagarde, who has been investigated in relation to the Tapie affair, which is gripping France, had her Parisian home searched during the course of the investigation, revealing a note which she wrote to Sarkozy, in the form of a letter of allegiance and loyalty.

The letter goes:

Dear Nicolas, very briefly and respectfully.

1)      I am at your side in order to serve you and your projects for France

2)      I have done my best and this means I have on occasion failed. I ask your forgiveness.

3)      I don’t have any personal political ambitions; neither do I wish to become an ambitious lackey like a number of your entourage whose loyalty is on occasion recent and sometimes short lived.

4)      Use me for as long as you wish and for as long as it suits your actions and your cabinet.

5)      If you use me, I need you as a guide and also for support: without a guide, I risk being inefficient, without support, I risk being non credible.

With my immense admiration, Christine L.

This seemingly close relationship fuels rumours that Lagarde’s actions in 2007, when she intervened in the long running dispute between Credit Lyonnais and Bernard Tapie over the sale of Adidas in 1993, were at the command of the Elysée. Tapie was the former head of the Adidas, and claimed he had been cheated of millions by the sale, managed by Credit Lynonnais. Lagarde ordered a special panel of judges to arbitrate the argument, and they eventually ruled that Tapie was owed about 285 million euros in damages.

This out-of-court conclusion drew outrage from many sections of French society. Many looked on in disbelief as the state used the tax payer’s money to pay off a private beneficiary. Lagarde was especially criticised by the Socialist party, but she pithily reminded them that the whole affair had begun under Mitterrand’s presidency. Lagarde, when convoked to appear before court, seemed outwardly serene, telling Le Figaro that she was as calm as ever, confident that she had only ever acted in ‘the public interest.’ As yet she has not been charged, but instead has been named as a witness.

It seems that Lagarde’s testimony, given in May of this year, may have led to Stéphane Richard, CEO of the global telecoms group Orange, being added to the ever-growing melee of names associated with the affair. He led her ministry during her time in office, before joining Orange. Consequently, it was he who first brought to Lagarde’s attention, according to her testimony, the possible solution of a private arbitrage to end the affair, and to which he appeared ‘very favourable.’ Even more incriminating for Richard, the fact that Lagarde denies actually signing a letter which appears to have her signature on it, in which instructions are given as to how an eventual arbitrage should be carried out. Yet the letter was signed during her absence from Paris, at the same time as the annual meeting of the FMI, to which she participated in her role as French finance minister.  Lagarde speculates that the letter was signed unbeknownst to her, with the use of a signature stamp, which can only be used with express permission. This she denies giving, making Richard’s defence against accusations of frauds seem weak at best, especially given as he was her second-in-command. However, news broke only a few hours ago that despite the fact that he is under investigation, Orange’s board of directors have given him their full vote of confidence, and he will remain on as CEO. This is after François Hollande clearly signed his support for Richard. Notably Orange was acquired by France Telecom in 2000, of which the State holds a 13.5% share.

Nevertheless, more and more rumours have emerged about the friendship between Sarkozy and Tapie. Recently, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP for the environmentalist party in France, Europe Ecologie Les Verts, affirmed his belief that Lagarde’s decision was effectively taken by Sarkozy, the very same year that he came to power. This claim was repeated by Segolène Royal.  Currently in France the headlines are being dominated by interrogations as to whether the supposedly neutral and unbiased arbitrage of the affair was in fact not partisan, leading to Tapie’s enormous payout, and, it must be speculated, close alliance with the UMP. He had, after all, undergone a political volte-face, known in the nineties for being a sympathiser of the left.

Along with the on-going Bettancourt affair, the new evidence brought to light during the course of the investigation implicate Sarkozy deeper and deeper into affairs of political corruption and fraud. While President, diplomatic immunity meant he could not be prosecuted, but whether he actually could undertake a return to politics once these investigations have come to an end remains to be seen.

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