French tycoon's Bernard Tapie assets to be seized in fraud probe

Judges make order in case of Bernard Tapie as Sarkozy's hopes of comeback threatened

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 1:47am

Judges have ordered a Mediterranean villa and other assets to be seized from a French businessman at the centre of a fraud investigation that could weigh on ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's hopes of a comeback.

Bailiffs will confiscate assets worth tens of millions of euros belonging to tycoon Bernard Tapie, in a move that suggests investigating judges believe they have evidence of fraud in a €403 million (HK$4 billion) arbitration payment he received in 2008 under Sarkozy's presidency.

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.

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

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said the Socialist government, which took power after Sarkozy's defeat last year, had asked for "protective measures" to be taken in case reparations needed to be made to the state.

Tapie, who has been under formal investigation since June 28 on suspicion the arbitration payment may have been rigged, has denied any wrongdoing.

Sarkozy has immunity for life for any acts carried out while he was president. But he could come under scrutiny if it emerged the arbitration settlement was being planned earlier, when he was finance minister.

The Tapie affair is one of a string of legal headaches pressing on Sarkozy as he considers a possible comeback for the 2017 presidential election.

It has embroiled several of his former cabinet members, including IMF head Christine Lagarde, his finance minister in 2008.

Tapie - who supported Sarkozy in the last two elections - was awarded the money to settle a dispute with now defunct state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over a 1993 share sale.

The 70-year-old was awarded €285 million, rising to €403 million with interest and before taxes, to settle his claim that the bank defrauded him by buying his stake in sports firm Adidas for €315.5 million, only to sell it a year on for €701 million.