May 18, 2017 / 4:24 PM / 3 months ago

French tycoon Tapie ordered to pay back 400 mln euros to state

PARIS, May 18 (Reuters) - France's highest court ordered tycoon Bernard Tapie to repay 404 million euros ($449 million) to the state on Thursday in what looked like the end, for him, of a decades-old French legal battle that still reverberates through business and political life.

Earlier this year, IMF chief Christine Lagarde was found guilty of negligence in regard to one of France's best known "affaires," and in March, the Paris prosecutor recommended that the head of telecoms group Orange, Stephane Richard, should stand trial for fraud in connection with it.

Tapie's lawyer said he would take the case against his client to the European courts.

The case dates back to when Tapie sued for compensation after the sale of his stake in sports company Adidas to then state-owned Credit Lyonnais bank in 1993.

He accused the bank of defrauding him after it resold the holding for a much higher price.

With the case stuck in the courts, the two sides agreed to a private settlement, and in 2008 Tapie was awarded a 404 million euro payout.

The litigation continued, however, and in December 2015, a French court ruled that Tapie should return this compensation.

It was this ruling that France's supreme court confirmed in a judgement on Thursday.

Lagarde was French finance minister at the time of the payout to Tapie, and at a hearing in December last year, a French court ruled that her failure to contest the award to Tapie was negligent.

The court was a special one which exists to try ministers and former ministers. It gave her no punishment.

Orange chief executive Richard was Lagarde's chief of staff in 2008. He declined to take the witness stand during Lagarde's trial on the advice of his lawyer.

In March, the Paris prosecutor said he wanted Richard to stand trial for fraud misuse of public funds.

The prosecutor's request was made to an investigating magistrate who will decide whether to go ahead with a trial.

Richard has denied wrongdoing. In March, a spokesman for his company said "the accusations raised against him are totally unfounded".

$1 = 0.9004 euros Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Callus

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