(Adds Lagarde quotes)
By Chine Labbé
PARIS Dec 12 International Monetary Fund chief
Christine Lagarde pledged to fight "allegation by allegation"
charges of negligence when she went on trial in Paris on Monday
over her role in a huge payout by the French state 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.
The decision to accept an extremely rare private arbitration
ended up costing French taxpayers more than 400 million euros
($424 million) in a payout to Tapie.
Accused of negligence leading to misuse of public funds,
Lagarde 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 French predecessor
Dominique Strauss Kahn quit in 2011 over a sex assault scandal.
"I would like to show you that I am in no way guilty of
negligence, but rather that I acted in good faith with only the
public interest in mind," she said in the opening hearing.
"Was I negligent? No. And I will strive to convince you
allegation by allegation," she said, expressing surprise at the
harsh tone of the charges against her.
Investigators have said that Lagarde's behaviour in the case
went 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 the case stuck in the
courts, the two sides agreed to a private settlement and Tapie
was awarded a 403 million euro payout, including interest.
($1 = 0.9432 euros)
(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by
Richard Balmforth and Catherine Evans)