Did Bernard Tapie defraud the state? The Paris Criminal Court renders its judgment on Tuesday, more than ten years after the controversial arbitration which granted 403 million euros to the businessman to settle his old dispute with the Credit Lyonnais.
Deliberation is expected in the morning, and will probably be pronounced in the absence of the boss of the media group La Provence, who suffered at 76 years a recurrence of his double cancer of the esophagus and stomach.
A sentence of five years in prison was required on 1 April against Mr. Tapie, tried for "fraud" and "embezzlement of public funds".
For the public prosecutor's office, the former minister "rigged" the arbitration which granted him in July 2008 the unprecedented sum of 45 million euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage, in compensation for a "fault" of the Credit Lyonnais during resale of the sports equipment manufacturer Adidas.
This award rendered by a private arbitral tribunal should have been the epilogue of a titanic dispute between the businessman and the former public bank, which he accuses for twenty-five years of having cheated.
But the sentence was finally annulled in 2015 civil "fraud" and Bernard Tapie-personal bankruptcy since December 1994- was sentenced to return the collected millions, the amount and repayment terms are still debated.
Christine Lagarde, the future president of the European Central Bank (ECB), was sentenced at the end of 2016 for "negligence" for not having appealed against this arbitration when she was Minister of the Economy. The Court of Justice of the Republic, however, had exempted him from punishment.
The criminal court must not be "the registration chamber" of these decisions, had pleaded one of Mr. Tapie's lawyers, Hervé Temime, brocarding an "empty evidence" file. "Bernard Tapie is not a crook," he had thundered.
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For the public prosecutor's office on the contrary, the former boss of Olympique de Marseille was the "co-organizer" and the "main beneficiary" of a "fraud" committed to the detriment of the State.
By first activating his supporters at the Elysee so that the Sarkozyist power choose the arbitral way instead of ordinary justice.
Then making sure of the "partiality" of one of the referee judges, who maintained "old and regular links" with his historical lawyer Maurice Lantourne. "In the pay" of the duo, the high magistrate Pierre Estoup, principal editor of the sentence, had "abused" his two co-arbitrators, estimated the representatives of the parquet floor.
They demanded a "symbolic" sentence of three years' imprisonment for Mr. Estoup, 92 years old and absent at the trial for medical reasons, and three years suspended against Mr. Lantourne.
Sentences of three years imprisonment including 18 months firm, 100,000 euros fine and a ban on the public service for five years were requested against two former senior officials, the current CEO of Orange Stéphane Richard and the former Director of the Consortium de Réalisation (CDR), responsible for managing Crédit Lyonnais' liabilities.
Richard, 57, plays his future at the head of the telecom operator: in case of conviction, he will have to resign, warned the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire in January 2018.
The accusation accuses the former chief of staff of Ms. Lagarde to have made a "truncated presentation" of the dispute to his minister to allow the entry into arbitration and to have him the presence of the businessman during a crucial meeting at the Elysee.
"It did not hide anything" to Ms. Lagarde, had insisted the lawyers of the boss of Orange, brocarding the "conspiracy thesis" of the accusation whose base would be an "implicit pact" concluded between Nicolas Sarkozy, elected in 2007, and his political support Mr. Tapie.
But in this case, the defendants are "victims of the fact that the judges were not able to attack Nicolas Sarkozy", protected then by his immunity presidential, had noted one of the advice of Stéphane Richard, Pierre Cornut- Gentle.
The public prosecutor's office had requested the release of another official, Bernard Scemama.
Civil parties, the State and the CDR have requested the payment of 525 million euros in damages and further claim respectively one million and 500,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage.