Business tycoon Bernard Tapie has been cleared of fraud in a sensational verdict after a lengthy trial into an affair which also involved outgoing IMF boss Christine Lagarde.
Tapie’s lawyer wiped away tears when the verdict was announced, delighted for his client, who himself was not in court as he is undergoing chemotherapy for advanced cancer.
The case centred on a 2008 payout of 404 million euros of public money to Tapie.
He was awarded the sum by an arbitration panel after he sued the state-run bank Crédit Lyonnais, claiming the bank had undervalued his stake in Adidas when he sold the sportswear company in 1993.
The massive payout created a scandal, with opposition politicians claiming that then-president Nicolas Sarkozy was behind the decision to use arbitration in a bid to reward Tapie for public support ahead of Sarkozy’s election in 2007.
The judge today found there was no significant proof of misconduct by Bernard Tapie or the three others on trial who included Christine Lagarde’s former private secretary, Stephane Richard.
Christine Lagarde had made the decision to use arbitration in 2007 and was found guilty of negligence in a separate court case in 2016 for failing to launch an appeal against the payout.
That verdict followed a ruling in a civil court, ordering Tapie to repay the 404 million euros.
Despite these civil rulings, none of the 404 million euros has been returned to the state coffers and today’s ruling might leave room to challenge the order for Tapie to return the money.
Tapie is one of France’s best-known public figures.
He made a fortune taking over failing companies, before going into politics, losing a fortune and re-inventing himself as an actor, in a life of dramatic highs and lows.
In his heyday he splashed out on a cycling team, and on the Olympique de Marseille football team which he guided to five successive league victories and the 1993 Champions League title.
But things began to unravel in the 1990s when he served six months behind bars in 1997 for match-fixing. His business empire later collapsed.
He repaid his debts with the money awarded by the arbitrators and soon bought another yacht, which he named “Reborn”.
He is a larger than life character, loved or hated but irrepressibly flamboyant.
In his most recent public appearance commenting on the European elections in May, he was a much diminished figure who struggled to make himself heard, his famous energy depleted.
Today his family and well-wishers in the public are euphoric that he has triumphed again.