French business tycoon Bernard Tapie arrested for questioning over alleged conspiracy with former President Nicolas Sarkozy to 'defraud' the state


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The Independent Online

The French business tycoon, Bernard Tapie, 70, has been arrested for questioning about an alleged conspiracy with former President Nicolas Sarkozy to “defraud” the French state.

Mr Tapie could be interrogated by magistrates for up to four days and is expected to be placed under formal investigation for “conspiracy to commit fraud”. . Because of his age, he was being held at medically -equipped interrogation room and cells at the Hotel Dieu hospital in the centre of Paris.

Three investigating magistrates have already formally accused three men, including a retired judge, of fixing an apparently independent Euros 405m arbitration in Mr Tapie’s favour in July 2008. It is alleged that the arbitration, settling a 15 year dispute between the Tapie and a state-owned bank, was engineered by the then President and his staff to reward the left-leaning businessman for his support during the 2007 presidential election.

The magistrates are expected to question Mr Tapie about a statement he made to them on oath last year in which he declared that he had never spoken to Mr Sarkozy or his staff or any minister or ministerial official about the independent arbitration. The magistrates have since uncovered evidence that Mr Tapie visited the Elysee Palace 22 time in 2007-8 and that he and his lawyer discussed the case with senior official on Mr Sarkozy’s staff and at the finance ministry.

The case arises from the sale in 1993 of the Adidas sportswear company, then owned by Mr Tapie. The businessman accuses the state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais of selling the company, in effect, to itself through shell companies offshore. Although he recived his asking price, the bank made a large profit when it resold Adidas two years later.

Several legal judgments have been made in Mr Tapie’s favour and then overturned. President Sarkozy and his supporters insist that the arbitration was a fair and independent settlement of poisonous long-running dispute.