PARIS (AFP) – Flamboyant French businessman Bernard Tapie was yesterday acquitted on charges of defrauding the state of more than 400 million euros with a massive 2008 arbitration award that has also ensnared International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Christine Lagarde.
In its ruling, the Paris criminal court found “nothing in the case that confirmed” the allegation that the arbitration payout was tainted by “fraud”.
The 76-year-old former Socialist minister, who rose from humble beginnings to build up a sporting and media empire, was not in court on health grounds following a resurgence of cancer.
Tapie was put on trial in March in the latest chapter of a two-decade legal saga that has embroiled a slew of senior officials, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and Lagarde.
“Today the court has delivered a verdict with rare independence that is exceptionally clear and it is … of immense satisfaction for us and a huge relief,” a lawyer for Tapie, Herve Temime, told reporters.
The case centres on a payment of 404 million euros (USD454 million) that was awarded to him in 2008 by a government arbitration panel.
The panel found he had been the victim of fraud when he sold his stake in the Adidas in 1993 to state-run French bank Credit Lyonnais, which was found to have undervalued the sportswear brand.