Lagarde: slick IMF high-flyer in court over Adidas
Silver-haired and silver-tongued, Christine Lagarde is a high-flying former lawyer whose legacy at the IMF and possible future political career may hang on a case before French courts next week.
Lagarde, 60, is credited with steering the Washington-based International Monetary Fund efficiently through turbulent economic times since she took over in 2011.
As well as being an embarrassing distraction, her legal woes also strike at the core of another of her tasks: restoring morale at the institution following both of her predecessors' legal problems.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister like Lagarde, resigned in disgrace in 2011 after being accused of attempted rape in a New York hotel.
Rodrigo Rato, a former banker who ran the Fund from 2004-2007, is on trial for embezzlement in his native Spain.
Lagarde, usually impeccably dressed in luxury French brands, has dismissed as "political" the prosecution over her role in awarding a massive state payout in 2008 to Bernard Tapie, the ex-owner of Adidas.
"I've always acted in accordance with the law, and I've always had in mind the public interest," she told AFP in an interview in July.
The case remains a blemish on an otherwise stellar international career in business, government and finance that has seen her break through barriers as a woman.
She was the first female chairman of a major global law firm -- the US-based Baker & McKenzie -- and became France's first woman economy minister when she was named by then president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
The twice-divorced mother of two is also the first woman to head the IMF, which lends money to stricken countries and monitors the international financial system.
Lagarde has forged a reputation as being both tough and an effective sweet-talker who the BBC's business editor once admitted was "one of the most charming politicians in the world."
She started a second five-year term as IMF managing director in February.
Economist Desmond Lachman, a former IMF official, recalls that "there are many instances of Ms. Lagarde's courageous truth-telling" -- often as the only women in the room.
This once included telling off her successor as French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, who fell asleep during one of many crisis meetings on her watch at the IMF.
The stamina of the former synchronised swimmer, who represented France as a schoolgirl, is legendary and she says she gave up drinking alcohol 15 years ago to improve her performance.
When not attending international summits, negotiating bailout programmes for bankrupt countries or crunching data at the IMF headquarters, she likes to relax on a farm she owns in northern France.
She was born to middle-class teacher parents and went to school in the port city of Le Havre on the coast facing Britain, before going on to study at universities in France and the US.
In her home country, her name still circulates as a possible future president, much as Strauss-Kahn's did before the rape allegations and revelations about his sex life torpedoed his ambitions.
"I hope that where I am today, I am useful to my country as well," she told AFP in July. "But a strong desire to, so to speak, return to politics? No, certainly not."
She was also once mentioned as a possible contender for the post of EU president and would in theory have a pick of high-profile international roles after the IMF.
During her time at the institution, Lagarde has worked to increase the influence of emerging countries, particularly China, and has taken part in bailout talks for Greece and Ukraine.
She is a staunch defender of the international trade system and has spoken out about the dangers of rising nationalism and a "populist backlash" around the world.
She said in September that globalisation "has to benefit all, not a few", but argued that the fruits of a connected world were severely undersold by politicians.