Scandal-hit French tycoon Tapie announces return to politics

Isabelle Cortes
French businessman Bernard Tapie has been embroiled in a 25-year dispute with the Credit Lyonnais bank over his sale of sportswear firm Adidas but lawyers say he has lost his final appeal (AFP Photo/BORIS HORVAT)

Paris (AFP) - French tycoon Bernard Tapie, embroiled in a scandal that has seen IMF chief Christine Lagarde ordered to stand trial, on Sunday announced he was returning to politics.

The flamboyant businessman, 72, said he was responding to the "alarm" signalled by France's recent regional elections, which saw the far-right National Front (FN) record their best-ever results in the first round before failing to win a single region in the second.

"I've decided to return to politics," the former Adidas owner told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, nearly two decades after vowing never to do just that.

Tapie built an image in the 1990s as a staunch opponent of the FN -- clashing memorably with its then-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen -- as well as a defender of underprivileged suburban youth when he became cities minister in 1992 under Socialist president Francois Mitterrand.

Tapie's latest announcement comes two weeks after he was ordered to repay 404 million euros ($440 million) he had been awarded in an acrimonious dispute with Credit Lyonnais bank, a verdict he said had left him "ruined. Ru-ined. Absolutely on Ruined Street."

Tapie bought sportswear brand Adidas in the early 1990s but sold it to focus on his political career. The Paris appeals court rejected his claim that the now-defunct bank defrauded him on the sale.

Along with promising to fight the rise of the FN, Tapie -- who has also dabbled in acting -- said he would announce a plan in the New Year to combat youth unemployment.

Asked if he was considering running for the presidential election in 2017, he told the Journal du Dimanche: "Everything in its time. Politics is not just about being elected."

Despite having served in a Socialist government, Tapie supported conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the Republicans party and a possible contender in 2017, at the last election.

Tapie's political adversaries reacted with disdain to his supposed comeback, with FN number two Florian Philippot denouncing the move as "pretty sad" and the Republicans' Bernard Debre saying: "I don't care."

IMF chief Lagarde was ordered Thursday to stand trial over her handling of a massive state payout to Tapie when she was finance minister under Sarkozy.

She was placed under formal investigation in 2014 for negligence in the protracted legal drama pitting Tapie against the partly state-owned Credit Lyonnais.