International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Christine Lagarde has been ordered to face trial over her role in a payout of €400m (£291m) to businessman Bernard Tapie.
The case, relating to a saga dating back two decades, will be heard by magistrates at the Cour de Justice de la Republique, which judges ministers for crimes in office, according to France’s prosecutor general.
Ms Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, is accused of negligence over the Tapie affair while serving as France’s finance minister. She said she would appeal against the decision.
Her office said in a statement that she “acted in the best interest of the French state and in full compliance with the law”.
The decision came days after Ms Lagarde was in London with Chancellor George Osborne unveiling the IMF’s latest health check for the UK economy – hailing the progress of Britain’s recovery but warning of the uncertainty posed by the EU referendum.
It came as a surprise as France’s top prosecutor had recommended in September that investigations against Ms Lagarde be dropped.
Her lawyer Yves Repiquet called the decision “incomprehensible”, adding: “I sent her a text, she was really surprised and very disappointed.”
While Lagarde was finance minister, Tapie won French government compensation after selling his stake in sports company Adidas to Credit Lyonnais in 1993. He claimed the now defunct bank had defrauded him after it later resold his stake for a much higher sum.
Earlier this month, a French court dismissed Tapie’s demand for a further payout of over a billion euros, ordering him instead to pay back the original compensation.
IMF Communications Director Gerry Rice said: “As we have said before, it would not be appropriate to comment on a case that has been and is currently before the French judiciary.
“However, the Executive Board continues to express its confidence in the Managing Director’s ability to effectively carry out her duties.”