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Corruption

French tycoon Bernard Tapie charged with fraud

French businessman Bernard Tapie has been charged with fraud in a settlement case that won him millions from former French President Sarkozy's government. Tapie has denied wrongdoing.

French prosecutors charged Tapie, 70, of organized fraud related to a ministerial misconduct case. The announcement came after four days of questioning the French businessman, who once owned Adidas, served as a minister under the Socialist President Francois Mitterand and then later became a high-profile supporter of former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"We are completely calm about these charges which seem to us to have been decided in advance," Tapie's attorney, Herve Temime told reporters on Friday.

In 1993, Tapie sold his shares of Adidas to investors. He subsequently launched a court dispute in the years that followed, claiming the then state-owned Credit Lyonnais bank had purposely undervalued Adidas.

In 2008, an arbitration panel paid Tapie 403 million euros ($525 million) to settle the long-disputed case. At the time, Christine Lagarde, was serving as France's finance minister and had asked a panel of judges to arbitrate the case. Lagarde is the current IMF chief.

Investigators believe that Tapie - who was jailed in 1997 over match-fixing charges from his time as president of football club Olmypique de Marseille - received preferential treatment from the government due to his high-profile endorsement of Nicolas Sarkozy during the 2007 presidential campaign.

"I can assure you there is nothing in the file that shows the arbitration decision was the result of fraud, or of an organized conspiracy," attorney Herve Temime said.

Currently, three others have been charged in the case, including one of the judges from the arbitration panel; the current CEO of France Telecom, Stephane Richard; and an official from the Consortium de Realisation.

Lagarde avoided charges after two days of testimony in late May. French magistrates have named her "assisted witness" in the case, meaning she can be called again to testify. New details in the case, if incriminating, could also lead prosecutors to bring charges against her.

kms/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)