Boss Of French Group Orange Stays Away From Lagarde Trial
Stephane Richard, head of France’s biggest phone company, who was expected to be one of the chief witnesses at the negligency trial of IMF chief Christine Lagarde, stayed away from the Paris court on Wednesday on the advice of his lawyer.
Lagarde, 60, faces charges, which she strongly denies, of being negligent when, as French finance minister, she approved in 2008 a state payout of 400 million euros ($425 million) to business tycoon Bernard Tapie.
Richard, who is chief executive of telecoms group Orange, was chief of staff to Lagarde at the time. He is under investigation on suspicion of embezzlement in a separate action linked to the Tapie case.
When the court resumed on Wednesday for the third day, Richard’s lawyer said the Orange boss would not appear in person but wished to present a written statement to the court.
“He took the decision not to appear before you today,” lawyer Jean-Etienne Giamarchi said. “On my advice, though he wished to come …, he has expressed the wish for a written statement to be presented to the court.”
Lagarde was subjected to aggressive grilling on Tuesday over her approval of the rare out-of-court settlement with Tapie in a dispute over the sale of a stake in a company.
The IMF managing director faces up to a year in jail and a fine of 15,000 euros if convicted.
A maximum sentence could raise questions about her ability to hold on to her job at the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, where her French predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned in 2011 over a sex scandal.
Richard’s role as witness in the trial is important since part of Lagarde’s defence has been to suggest she was manipulated professionally by others around her at the time.
“Was I used? If so, by whom? We shall perhaps know one day,” she said on Monday.
Richard’s position as a witness in the Lagarde trial appears complicated because of the separate case against him, which involves five others.
Lagarde is being heard in a special court for trying cabinet ministers, which has heard only five cases since it was created in 1993 and never sent anyone to jail.