STRAUSS-KAHN: DSK allies out to make life tough for Christine Lagarde.

IMF reactionaries and high-court judges are on the French candidate’s case

Christine Lagarde was in China yesterday, drumming up IMF votes. By some spooky coincidence, she used this venue to say that she thought China should have a bigger say in the IMF, and that the old men of Beijing were doing really quite well with their ‘flotation’ of the Yuan.

This earned her a fairly swift retort from the IMF’s Asia expert and Chinese Mission Chief Nigel Chalk, who at a Press Conference shortly afterwards  reiterated his view that the yuan “hasn’t moved very much in the past several years”. You could hardly call Mr Chalk and Dominic Strauss-Kahn close mates – but they do both represent the IMF’s old guard for which the USA has such disdain.

After the tat to her tit, Lagarde lost no time is saying during the afternoon that the IMF was “in great need of reform”. This too was what the Chinese wanted to hear, but if I was Nigel Chalk I’d be making alternative career plans this morning.

Is this merely just knockabout election politics? I doubt it. The world represented by DSK in France is out to make life as difficult as possible for Mme Lagarde, and they have the perfect vehicle in the 2008 Bernard Tapie/Credit Lyonnais saga. Making reference to this cloud over her head, the candidate herself said yesterday, “It’s a matter which is without grounds, without foundation, this is clearly engineered and instrumented by the opposition at the moment….it will have no bearing at all on my candidacy.”

Well, we all remember our Christine as the nitwit who said some months back, “We shall have a [eu banking] stress test, and the markets will see all is well and the crisis will be ended”. She may be right this time, but even so she was making free with la verite when she called the scandal opposition tactics and ‘without foundation’. The truth is that the 2008 incident is part of a constitutional ding-dong in France – and both she and Sarkozy are at the centre of it.

As briefly as possible, Bernard Tapie is a very close chum of Sarko. He used to be a big wheel at Adidas, but sold out many years ago – during 1993. He claims that Credit Lyonnais short-changed him by a trifling sum – €285 million – and as CL is owned by the State, the matter eventually wound up in arbitration….and Sarkozy’s lap.

Although a man of the Left as a whole, Tapie’s defection to Sarkozy during the Presidential election in 2007 was a boost to his close friend Nicolas. It seems that, once in the Elysees, Sarko grabbed his close ally and Chief Economist Christine Lagarde and suggested that his chum should get private arbitration, rapidly followed by the spondoolicks. Christine duly obliged, overruling the judiciary who felt there were irregularities. Tapie got his money.

The French Left alleges that at best, the decision was corrupt and at worst, Lagarde may have taken a kick-back. She would have to have been very stupid so to do, but as we’ve seen in the past, Christine Lagarde is a very stupid woman.

Anyway, today is the cut-off point for IMF candidatures: it’s faites vos jeux, now or never. And today, the three senior judges in France are meeting to decide whether Lagarde has any case to answer. Fancy that.

This is where the constitutional importance comes in. The soon-to-retire Jean-Louis Nadal – the public prosecutor of France’s highest court – is on the record as saying politicians have interfered too much in judicial matters in recent years. By ‘politicians’, he means Sarkozy and Lagarde; and by ‘in recent years’, he means the 2008 stitch-up. Shortly after DSK suddenly found himself on Rikers Island, Bernard Tapie became the first French celeb to go on national TV and allege that Strauss-Kahn may well have been set up by political rivals in France. Here again, this open code for Sarkozy. I think he’s wrong, but that’s neither here nor there. Five days beforehand on May 10th, Nadal took the near-unprecedented step of writing an open letter in Le Monde – an Establishment newspaper which also has its doubts about both Sarkozy, and the DSK arraignment.

In the letter, he couldn’t have been more clear about why he felt the case should be reopened:

‘I have put forward my recommendation that we need a further senior Court ruling on whether Christine Lagarde abused her position in an attempt to help Bernard Tapie’.

Sarko brushed this aside as a matter of no import; but then DSK was arrested. On 24th May, it was decided to rule one way or the other about the Lagarde involvement with Tapie’s money on June 10th – today. Yet again, the date was noted with relatively small media coverage.

But on 25th May, as Lagarde announced her IMF candidature, the full Tapie-Lagarde dossier prepared by Jean-Louis Nadal was leaked to prominent French online news source Mediapart. This time, the dynamite went off with a rather bigger bang:

A senior Paris public prosecutor has found evidence suggesting French finance minister Christine Lagarde, candidate to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund, acted in a manner of  “obstructing the law” in the controversial arbitration procedure that awarded French tycoon Bernard Tapie 403 million euros of public funds in 2008. Mediapart has obtained exclusive access to a report sent by the prosecutor, Jean-Louis Nadal, to the Court of Justice, which investigates cases of suspected misdeeds by serving ministers, in which he says Lagarde  “constantly” used her ministerial position to reach a “favourable” outcome for Tapie.’

This is big bananas: half a billion euros of public money given to a private friend of the President thanks to constant interference by the President’s closest Government ally Christine Lagarde. This makes her assertion of a case “instrumented by the Opposition” look disingenuous in the extreme: the case is being driven by one of the country’s top lawyers….an expert on the separation of judicial and political power.

Some of the attempts by the Government to kick this can down the road yesterday were actually quite funny. At one point, a Justice Ministry source told the French media that “they [the judges] will probably seek extra time before deciding”. Pressure was then applied to ask how do you know this and why are they dithering. “It’s a complex case” he said. Mme Lagarde says it’s a simple case said the press boys. The unfortunate civil servant then said:

“Perhaps they will decide tomorrow or they may put it off for a little time. That could also be a long time. There is no clear object here as to when they will decide on the referral”.

If I can just put into words what the spokesman said, it seems to me that whether the judges rule immediately or later, this is bad news for Christine Lagarde. The maximum embarrassment would be caused by waiting until after her Coronation – and then deciding that yet another head of the IMF is not entirely morally sound. However, Nadal is due to retire, and there are rather too many people in both France and the US who want to ensure nothing gets in her way.

[Following on from the recent Slog piece about Lagarde now being seen as ‘our gal’ in the States, Reuters noted yesterday that ‘more than two decades of practicing law in Chicago enhance her transatlantic appeal’. Uh-huh: that and not being DSK.]

For the full history of the DSK saga, go to The Strauss-Kahn Waltz page