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French court to seize assets of embattled tycoon Tapie

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

French investigators have ordered some assets of embattled tycoon Bernard Tapie seized as part of a corruption probe linked with IMF chief Christine Lagarde, judicial sources said on Wednesday.

Tapie has been charged with organised fraud in the probe, which relates to a 400 million euro ($525 million) state payout Tapie received in 2008 when Lagarde was France's finance minister.

Judicial sources said the property seizures were standard procedure to prevent Tapie, 70, from selling assets during the investigation. The tycoon retains ownership of the assets and, in the case of properties, can continue to use them.

Newspaper Le Monde reported that among the assets are life-insurance policies worth 20.7 million euros, shares worth 69.3 million euros in a Paris mansion and a villa in Saint Tropez worth 48 million euros.

Neither Tapie nor his lawyers were immediately available for comment.

Lagarde was in charge of the arbitration process that led to the payout and investigators suspect Tapie received preferential treatment in return for his high-profile support for her boss, former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The payout was connected to a dispute between the businessman and partly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over his 1993 sale of sportswear group Adidas.

Tapie claimed that Credit Lyonnais had defrauded him by intentionally undervaluing Adidas at the time of the sale and that the state, as the bank's principal shareholder, should compensate him.

Lagarde, who referred the dispute to an arbitration panel that ruled in Tapie's favour, was questioned for two days in May about her role in the affair.

She was not placed under formal investigation -- the French equivalent of being charged -- but she remains what is termed an "assisted witness", which means judges can summon her for further questioning at any time.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130710/french-court-seize-assets-embattled-tycoon-tapie