International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde was convicted of criminal negligence over a payout during her time as France’s Finance Minister. But despite the guilty verdict, Lagarde will not be forced to pay a fine or do any jail time. The New York Times:
Earlier on Monday, the Cour de Justice de la République, a French court that considers cases against current and former government ministers, found Ms. Lagarde guilty of criminal charges linked to the misuse of public funds when she was France’s finance minister nearly a decade ago. But the court did not impose a fine or a sentence.
In a statement, the directors of the I.M.F. said they had considered the court’s decisions and had “full confidence in the managing director’s ability to continue to effectively carry out her duties.”
The case in questions centers around a $420 million settlement paid out to Bernard Tapie, a French businessman whose dispute was sent to an arbitration panel under Lagarde’s watch. Critics contend—and the court now agrees—that Lagarde’s decision not to appeal their decision was politically tainted. But the details of the case are less significant than the Marie Antoinette level of elite blindness that the verdict signifies.
The French court justified its decision not to punish Lagarde in part because of her “national and international stature.” This kind of reasoning hardly inspires much confidence in the leaders of the “liberal international order” to police their own. Instead, Lagarde’s case will only reinforce the popular perception that elites are untouchable and unaccountable—especially if the IMF board rallies around Lagarde, as it is widely expected to do.
Elites often fail to understand how such lenient settlements can build into wider resentment; many average citizens hunger for a justice that goes beyond cushy court settlements. Just as many Americans were angered that no top Wall Street executives were jailed after the 2008 financial crash, many French are outraged at the notion that Lagarde misappropriated millions in state funds and will suffer no lasting consequences. That sense of unfairness plays directly into the hands of populist rabble-rousers across the West, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen, who like to paint the whole elite establishment as corrupt. Defenders of the liberal order would do well to understand this dynamic, lest they unwittingly fan the flames of populism against themselves.