Lagarde au FMI: la tribune libre que le New York Times n'a pas publiée

Fin juin, à la veille de la réunion du conseil d'administration du FMI qui devait choisir Christine Lagarde pour succéder à Dominique Strauss-Kahn à la direction générale du FMI, Laurent Mauduit et moi-même avions adressé au New York Times la tribune libre que l'on pourra lire ci-dessous.

Fin juin, à la veille de la réunion du conseil d'administration du FMI qui devait choisir Christine Lagarde pour succéder à Dominique Strauss-Kahn à la direction générale du FMI, Laurent Mauduit et moi-même avions adressé au New York Times la tribune libre que l'on pourra lire ci-dessous. La responsable des pages "Opinions" du grand quotidien new-yorkais avait accepté bien volontiers de considérer la publication de ce texte, sur la recommandation de ma consoeur et amie Susan Chira, rédactrice en chef des pages internationales du Times (foreign news editor). L'honnêteté impose de dire que nous avons été surpris par la décision précipitée des administrateurs du FMI, que nous attendions deux jours plus tard. Quelle qu'en soit la raison, ce texte, que j'avais rédigé en anglais, n'a pas été publié. Après la décision de la Cour de Justice de la République le 4 août d'ouvrir une enquête visant l'ancienne ministre de l'Economie et des Finances de Nicolas Sarkozy, je le mets en ligne sur ce blog. For the record.

Why Christine Lagarde should not become the next IMF managing director

More than a week ago, Christine Lagarde went to say goodbye to her staff at the French Ministry of Finance. As if her selection as the next IMF managing director was a ‘cause entendue', a done deal. That was before she completed a worldwide road show or met with the executive directors of the Fund who are now expected to rubberstamp a decision taken in capital cities. Typical French arrogance, one might think. We, as senior French independent journalists, wish to demonstrate why Miss Lagarde is professionally unqualified and morally unfit to take the helm at an institution expected to play such a key role at a critical juncture for the world economy.

If elected in the coming days, Christine Lagarde would become the fourth European politician in a row to run the IMF when none of her three predecessors completed his term, the last one, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ending it in the spectacular fashion we all know about. So much for the commitment to the institution. And even though ‘DSK' himself, after being appointed in 2007, pledged to emerging countries he would be the last to claim the job by force of a feudalistic but unwritten rule excluding any ‘non-European' candidate.

A lawyer trained in labor-related issues, Miss Lagarde does not exhibit the academic or professional background required from a leader who will have to make tough calls on complex economic and financial policy decisions. As demonstrated by her opening statement to the executive board on June 23rd, her grasp of the various challenges the IMF is facing appears to be vague and superficial. The difference with the vision outlined by her only opponent, Banco de Mexico's governor Agustin Carstens, is striking. It would have been even clearer if some outstanding candidates were allowed or encouraged to run. Most didn't in part because Old Europe preempted the job allocation. Why bother to compete when the game appears to be fixed?

What about her experience as French finance minister for the past four years? Well, under Nicolas Sarkozy's ‘hyper-presidency' there is no such thing as a finance minister. All major (and a lot of minor) decisions on a vast range of issues, from financial regulation to tax reform and key appointments, are being prepared by a team of close advisers and ‘friends', inside or outside the Elysée Palace, and decided upon by the president. Besides, money is not run anymore from Paris but by the ECB in Frankfurt, and the budgetary policy is the reserve of another cabinet member.

Where Miss Lagarde should have been able to prove herself was the running of the eurozone since the gobal financial crisis has been pushing this unique experiment into rough and unchartered waters. Unfortunately, all she appears to be is a prominent member of a team who mismanaged the sovereign debt crisis In Greece and amongst other peripheral euroland members to a point where it is now endangering the global economic recovery and threatening a fragile financial stability. This a track record the IMF can do without.

In a fair and truly open competition, that would be enough to disqualify Christine Lagarde as the next managing director. But there is more, with potentially damaging implications for an institution reeling from the DSK debacle.

In her capacity as finance minister, she is the central figure in ‘Tapiegate', the most serious financial and political scandal to hit the four-year-old presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The case is regarded as so serious that the highest magistrate in France, head attorney at the Cour de Cassation (Court of Appeal), Jean-Louis Nadal, is asking the Cour de Justice de la République (CJR), a special court for judging cabinet members, to open an inquiry into a possible abuse of power by Miss Lagarde. The court is expected to announce a decision on July 8th. It means that barely selected, the IMF managing director would be called upon as a witness by the investigators and possibly indicted and facing a trial during the course of her mandate.

Over the past two years, Mediapart, an independent investigative online journal, has made public several confidential documents and reports related to the case, the ultimate being the daunting request addressed by Jean-Louis Nadal to the CJR. At stake are not only hundreds of millions of euros in taxpayers' money but the rule of law and the principles of transparency and accountability.

To cut a long story short, there is a ongoing litigation between on the one hand the former businessman turned politician, then convict and finally soap opera actor Bernard Tapie and the liquidators of his failed business empire, and on the other hand the structure of defeasance, the Consortium de réalisation (CDR) dealing with the legacy of Credit Lyonnais, a bankrupt state-owned bank. By 2006, the course of ordinary justice was clearly turning in favor of the CDR and the French taxpayers. But in 2007, Christine Lagarde, only just appointed Minister of Finance, endorsed the decision to hand out the case to private arbitration. The three arbitrators, one of them having had previous business relations with a lawyer working for Mr.Tapie, ruled in favor of the former businessman, handing taxpayers a bill of 403 millions euro (570 millions USD). Meanwhile, Miss Lagarde lied, although not under oath, when she assured members of the French National Assembly that the net financial gain to Mr. Tapie would never exceed 30 million euros.

It appears that private arbitration is illegal when public money is at stake. It has been revealed that Miss Lagarde ruled against an appeal when the decision turned so obviously detrimental to the interest of the state. It has even been discovered that the wording of the decision of the CDR board, taken at the request of the minister, was altered in favor of Bernard Tapie. The senior civil servant chairing the board meeting is now under investigation. Summing up his lengthy report listing numerous anomalies and questioning the decisions made by the finance minister, Jean-Louis Nadal concludes she acted "in contempt of the law".

If, as in other matters, Miss Lagarde implemented decisions made at a higher level, how can she provide the IMF with the independent leadership it deserves? And if those decisions were her own, how can her judgment and integrity not be called into question?

We believe the IMF deserves better. And we would like to respectfully remind the executive directors they are not merely ambassadors accountable to their national governments, according to the By Laws of the IMF. As any director in any institution, their loyalty should first go to the institution.

Laurent Mauduit, a former deputy news editor at French daily Le Monde, co-founded Mediapart in 2008. Philippe Riès, a journalist with 36 years' professional experience, is a former chief economics editor at French news agency Agence France-Presse who joined Mediapart at its creation.

Le Club est l'espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n'engagent pas la rédaction.