PARIS: IMF chief Christine Lagarde has been put under formal investigation by French magistrates for alleged negligence in a political fraud affair dating from 2008 when she was finance minister.

Lagarde was questioned by magistrates in Paris this week for a fourth time under her existing status as a witness in the longrunning saga over allegations that tycoon Bernard Tapie won a large arbitration payout due to his political connections.

`After three years of procedure, the sole surviving allegation is that through inadvertence or inattention I may have failedtointervene to block the arbitration that brought to an end the longstanding Tapie litigation,` she said in a statementon Wednesday.

`I have instructed my lawyer to appeal this decision, which is without merit.

Under French law, magistrates place a person under formal investigation when they believe there are indications of wrongdoing, but that does not always lead to a trial.

Lagarde`s lawyer, Yves Repiquet, told Reuters he would personally appeal the magistrates` decision. That means Lagarde would not have to return to Paris in the meantime, allowing her to continue her duties as managing director of the International Monetary Fund uninterrupted.

`She is now on her way back to Washington and will, of course, brief the(IMF) board as soon as possible,` IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.

`Until then, we have no further comment.

The inquiry relates to allegations that Tapie, a supporter of conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was improperly awarded 403 million euros ($531m) in an arbitration to settle a dispute with now defunct state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais.

The inquiry has already embroiled several of Sarkozy`s cabinet members and France Telecom`s chief executive, Stephane Richard, who was an aide to Lagarde when she was Sarl(ozy`s finance minister.

The offence of negligence by a personchargedwithpublieresponsibilityinFrance carries a maximum penalty of one year`s imprisonment and a 15,000-euro fine.

The IMF`s board discussed the possible consequences of the Tapie case before deciding to select Lagarde, the board said at the time.

Tapie, a colourful and often controversial character in the French business and sports world, sued the state for compensation after selling his stake in sports company Adidas to Credit Lyonnais in 1993.

He claimed the bank had defrauded him after it later resold his stake for a much higher sum. Credit Lyonnais, now part of Credit Agricole, has denied wrongdoing.-Reuters

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