September 22, 2023

Anne Sinclair Takes Helm at French Huffington Post

PARIS — Anne Sinclair smiled big for the cameras, not as the betrayed wife standing by her man, but as the star journalist she once was and hopes to be again.

The wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ms. Sinclair returned to public life on Monday before more than 250 journalists in her new role as editorial director for the French version of The Huffington Post news Web site that debuted on Monday.

The news conference represented her first professional appearance since Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, was charged with sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel last May and forced to abandon his quest for the French presidency. The criminal charges were later dismissed.

“She is definitely going to be our public face,” said Arianna Huffington, the founder of the site, in an interview on Sunday.

A former television anchor and the heiress to an art fortune, Ms. Sinclair seemed well-rehearsed and at ease in describing her goals and her role at Le Huffington Post.

She insisted that there would be no conflict of interest in carrying out her duties. “All important news will be treated normally, as it would be treated elsewhere,” she said, adding, “Anything that should be on the front page will be on the front page.”

She denied that her relationship with her husband would affect her work. “I do not mix private and professional life,” she said.

She dodged a question on whether she would support Socialist candidate François Hollande for president of France, and denied that she had played a role in her husband’s plans to run for president on the Socialist ticket. “I wasn’t invested in the candidacy of my husband,” she said. She described herself as “careful.”

Paradoxically, had her husband been the Socialist party’s candidate for president, this job might not have been hers.

Since this is France, where journalists are loath to pry into the personal lives of the rich and powerful, she was not asked questions that might have come up in an American setting: Why do you stay with your husband? Does he suffer from a mental illness and cannot control his impulses, as a former Socialist prime minister, Michel Rocard, said some months ago? Can you elaborate on your claim that your husband’s treatment in the American criminal justice system is comparable to the Dreyfus affair? How are you dealing with allegations that your husband might have been involved in a French prostitution ring now under criminal investigation?

Ms. Huffington, sitting by Ms. Sinclair’s side, defended her as a gifted journalist and a role model for other women.

“Every woman in her private life” has suffered “setbacks, ordeals,” Ms. Huffington said. A woman like Ms. Sinclair, she added, “gives hope and courage to every other woman.”

Le Huffington Post is a joint venture of AOL, the Internet company that owns The Huffington Post; the French daily newspaper Le Monde; and Matthieu Pigasse, a banker who acquired Le Monde in 2010 in partnership with two other investors.

The Web site’s tiny staff of eight will work out of Le Monde’s offices in Paris, and the news conference was held in Le Monde’s auditorium. Ms. Sinclair’s every gesture, every smile, every whisper in Ms. Huffington’s ear was greeted with the clicks of the cameras of dozens of photographers.

Ms. Sinclair delivered. Her makeup was impeccable, her fingernails meticulously manicured, her voice low-pitched and confident, her gaze focused on certain photographers.

“This is a chance for me,” said Ms. Sinclair. “The Huffington Post gave me a chance.”

Ms. Sinclair said she would be working full-time, even more than full-time in her new job, although day-to-day editing responsibility would fall to Paul Ackermann, a former journalist with the newspaper Le Figaro.

Asked why she picked she pick Anne Sinclair, Ms. Huffington reeled off a list of Ms. Sinclair’s experience and qualifications, and then added: “Every woman in her private life — if not her in public life — has been through setbacks, ordeals and problems. When we see a woman enter the arena again, and get engaged with what is happening in the world, it gives hope and courage to every other woman.”

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Services Sector Trimmed Growth in June

Opinion »

Op-Ed: Stand in Her Shoes

Those who would rush to judge Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser should consider the context of someone seeking asylum from a violent, poverty-stricken country.

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On Global Charm Offensive, Lagarde Promises Support to Developing Countries

NEW DELHI — French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde promised Tuesday to support emerging markets so wholeheartedly that a little part of her “would turn Indian” if she were elected head of the International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Lagarde appeared in India’s capital as part of a global campaign to win support from developing nations for her candidacy. In late May she visited Brazil, and on Wednesday she is slated to meet officials in Beijing.

The IMF “does not belong to anybody,” but to all 187 member nations, she told reporters at the French Embassy in New Delhi.

Developing nations have been agitating for one of their own to fill the top slot at the International Monetary Fund since the post became vacant in May, when France’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn stepped down amid accusations of sexual assault.

If elected, Ms. Lagarde said Tuesday, she would “stand on my feet as a woman,” adding that she would stand “with a level of testosterone that would be lower.”

She also said she would continue reforms that have given emerging markets more weight in the fund’s decision-making process.

Ms. Lagarde met earlier Tuesday with the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Mr. Mukherjee told reporters after the meeting that India had not yet decided to back Ms. Lagarde, and that India would like to be part of a consensus of nations that chooses a new managing director for the fund.

During the press conference Tuesday evening, Ms. Lagarde said she was not in town to ask for Indian officials’ backing because that would be premature. Instead, she said, she was in India to present her candidacy and listen to concerns.

Indian officials expressed the “unanimous view” on Tuesday that “nationality is not the criteria — the criteria should be the merit of the candidate on its own rights,” she said.

Developing countries, which emerged relatively unscathed from the financial crises in recent years, are seeking a larger voice in international institutions as Europe and America continue to struggle with debt, unemployment and uncertain economic futures.

Ms. Lagarde said Tuesday that her experience dealing with the financial crisis was “an experience I would never forget” and one that taught her the value of coordination with other I.M.F. members.

Since the I.M.F. was created after World War II to promote global economic stability, it has always had a European as its elected managing director.

Mexico’s central bank governor, Agustín Carstens, is so far Ms. Lagarde’s only real challenger, but he has yet to win the open support of the largest developing nations. He will visit India later this week and China and Japan next week.

A lack of unity among emerging markets may mean their chance to head the fund this time is slipping away, some experts said.

“There is consensus on the principle that their candidates should be given a fair chance but no consensus on a particular candidate,” said Eswar Prasad, Cornell University’s senior professor of trade policy and the former head of research in the IMF’s financial studies division. “This effectively seals the deal in favor of Lagarde.”

Although nominations for the managing director slot do not close until Friday, some economists say the battle is already lost.

“Emerging countries have no chance and clearly are now backing Ms. Lagarde so that they can get some benefit out of the European powers during her term,” said Surendra L. Rao, an economist based in Bangalore.

Europe and the United States retain 45 percent of the voting rights in the IMF, but emerging market countries’ shares have been increasing as their economies grow. India carries a 2.35 percent voting share, the third largest of the major emerging market countries, after China’s 3.82 percent stake and just behind Russia’s 2.4 percent stake. Brazil trails with a 1.72 percent vote.

On May 24, the world’s leading emerging market nations voiced their desire for a more authority to choose a leader for the fund. In a joint statement, Brazil, Russia, India and China advocated “abandoning the obsolete unwritten convention that requires that the head of the IMF be necessarily from Europe.”

In India’s case, top officials stopped short of endorsing Lagarde but still indicated they consider her an ally.

On May 27, India’s minister of commerce and industry, Anand Sharma, met with Ms. Lagarde on the sidelines of an international trade meeting in Paris. “India has high regard for her record as chair of the G-20 and sees her as a friend,” Mr. Sharma’s office said in a statement about their discussion.

Rather than rallying behind an emerging market candidate during this election, “each of the key emerging markets is using the opportunity to position itself better for the next round and extract what it can from this round,” Mr. Prasad said.

Ms. Lagarde should demonstrate that “she is well aware that the world has changed, and that India, China, Brazil, South America or one of the other economies could provide the next president,” Mr. Prasad said.

Nida Najar contributed reporting.

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French Minister to Seek Top I.M.F. Job

Declaring her candidacy at a news conference called only the night before, Ms. Lagarde said that being European should not disqualify her and that she would be traveling over the next few weeks to listen to and seek support from other I.M.F. members.

“Being a European shouldn’t necessarily be a plus, but it shouldn’t be a minus, either,” she said.

Given that Europe’s festering sovereign debt crisis is the biggest problem facing the fund — and the reason European leaders have cited for wanting to hold on to the post for now — Ms. Lagarde said her intimate knowledge of the issues and the players involved can help.

Ms. Lagarde has a prominent profile in France, Europe and in the world of international finance. She has played a key role in managing the euro crisis at a pivotal point in its history. Moving to the I.M.F. would elevate her even more on the global stage.

She already has support from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; the British chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne; and most of Europe’s political establishment. That made her the front-runner to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned from the I.M.F. last week to fight charges that he sexually assaulted a maid in a New York hotel.

At the news conference, Ms. Lagarde made clear that she wants a full five-year term and is not seeking to just finish out the remaining 18 months of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s term. Tanned and smiling, she also said that she had spoken with her main rival, the Mexican central bank governor Agustín Carstens, two days ago and that “we are happy with the competition.”

Still, the selection process for the job has drawn increasing criticism from leaders of big emerging countries, who are gaining influence in the world as debt crises and economic downturns plague Western countries.

Late Tuesday in Washington, the I.M.F. representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa issued a firmly worded statement condemning the “obsolete, unwritten convention” of reserving the top job for a European, saying that making a selection on the basis of nationality “undermines the legitimacy of the fund.”

The statement stopped well short of rejecting Ms. Lagarde’s candidacy but said technical background and political acumen, rather than nationality, should be the main factors in choosing future managing directors.

It also underscored what has become in increasingly common refrain among emerging market nations on the global stage: that the gradual shift in economic and demographic influence to rapidly developing countries should be reflected in international institutions.

“Adequate representation of emerging market and developing members in the fund’s management is critical to its legitimacy and effectiveness,” the group’s statement said.

Yet in the absence of any consensus among emerging market nations on a candidate from their ranks, there appeared to be little to indicate that a bid by Ms. Lagarde would be derailed.

Arvind Virmani, who represents India and three other countries on the I.M.F. board, told Bloomberg News that it was unlikely that a candidate from an emerging market would be able to beat her. “There is no indication which suggests that the result will be any different this time,” he said.

But one thing that could throw a shadow on her candidacy involves her role in getting a case involving a supporter of President Nicolas Sarkozy sent to arbitration. Ms. Lagarde was peppered with questions during the press conference about whether she abused her authority in a case that resulted in a lucrative arbitration award to a French businessman, Bernard Tapie, in 2007.

French judges have until June 10 to decide whether to investigate the charges. Ms. Lagarde said she would maintain her candidacy even if judges decided to open an official inquiry.

“I have a perfectly clear conscience, and I operated with total respect for the law,” she said.

Bettina Wassener contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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French Minister in the Spotlight for I.M.F. Role

Next to her, Robert Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays and one of the most powerful bankers in the world, was admitting that banks should say “thank you” for their government bailouts.

Ms. Lagarde looked him in the eye. “The best way the banking sector can say thank you is with good financing for the economy, sensible compensation packages and reinforcement of their capital,” she replied, to a burst of applause.

Her straight talk has earned Ms. Lagarde, 55, a reputation as one of Europe’s most influential ambassadors in the world of international finance. Now it is helping to make her perhaps the leading candidate to succeed her friend and colleague, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is likely to be forced to resign his post as managing director of the International Monetary Fund to deal with rape charges stemming from his encounter with a hotel maid in New York on Saturday.

Ms. Lagarde’s strongest selling point, though, is not listed on her résumé.

“What’s happened with Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a former I.M.F. chief economist who is now a professor at Harvard University. “She is enormously impressive, politically astute and a strong personality. At finance meetings all over the world, she is treated practically like a rock star.”

European officials are frantically maneuvering to keep one of their own in a post Europe has controlled since the I.M.F. and the World Bank were created in the late 1940s. It won’t necessarily be easy. Three years after financial excesses in the United States and Europe brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has become the latest symbol of what many see as the faults and ailments of the wealthy West.

Appointing just another European, particularly another white middle-aged male, probably won’t fly this time.

The world’s fast-growing emerging economies say they should now get a shot at running a big institution like the I.M.F. or the World Bank, which has traditionally been headed by an American in a long-standing understanding between the two economic powers.

But with Europe facing a drawn-out financial crisis of its own, the world’s leaders may decide it would be more politic to have a European finish serving out Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s term, which ends in 2012, and then install a leader from one of the emerging markets, whose collective economic heft and effect on global markets is starting to eclipse that of the West.

That’s why Ms. Lagarde is seen as Europe’s lifeline. If she gets the post, Ms. Lagarde would be the first woman to run the I.M.F. — or any large international financial institution, for that matter. Her main competition, analysts say, is another policy maker with an alternate profile, Kemal Dervis, a former finance minister of Turkey who is credited with rescuing the economy after it was hit by a devastating financial crisis in 2001, in part by securing a multi-billion dollar loan from the I.M.F. Prior to that, Mr. Dervis worked at the World Bank for 24 years.

But with the I.M.F. overseeing 100 billion euros in loans to Greece, Portugal and Ireland, Ms. Lagarde may be the best person to steer a transition at the I.M.F., even if French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not yet moved to put her in the running, analysts say.

Ms. Lagarde has kept quiet about the rumors circulating about her potential candidacy. As one French official put it: “She knows that whatever she says will only diminish her chances. It’s best to stay above the fray and see what happens.”

But French officials do not doubt her ambition to move to Washington if the opportunity arose. “She is without a doubt one of the top candidates people are talking about right now,” a French diplomat said.

Ms. Lagarde’s biggest drawback perhaps is that she is French — like Mr. Strauss-Kahn. But recent history suggests that is not a disqualification: Between 1978 and 2000, two Frenchmen — Jacques de Larosière and Michel Camdessus — succeeded each other at the helm of the I.M.F.

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With Europe in Crisis, Fragile Time for I.M.F.

Sinking under a mountain of debt, Greece is on the verge of requesting more help from the European Union and the international fund. Ireland’s economic recovery from its banking crisis remains a distant prospect at best. And once an international aid deal is concluded for Portugal, the question shifts to whether Spain’s much larger and increasingly stagnant economy may need a financial lifeline.

Indeed, the most bitter twist for Dominique Strauss-Kahn is that his personal crisis comes at a time that the I.M.F.’s influence globally is at a many-decades peak, especially within Europe, his own stomping ground.

During his tenure as managing director of the fund, Mr. Strauss-Kahn is widely credited with expanding the fund’s resources after the financial crisis, improving its governance and essentially restoring its relevance by replacing orthodoxy with pragmatism.

Before being taken into custody in New York on Saturday afternoon on charges related to sexual assault, Mr. Strauss-Kahn had boarded a flight to Europe to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to discuss in detail how Europe and the I.M.F. would respond to the deteriorating economic situation in Greece.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn was known to be a powerful voice arguing that continuing austerity measures in Greece would only make the situation worse. The Greek economy has shrunk by as much as 4 percent this year from a year ago, after the international community laid out guidelines for reducing its debt, raising taxes and reining in spending.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s view contrasts with a harder line in northern Europe, where voters are opposed to another bailout package for Greece. Northern politicians, as a result, have pushed to exact a higher price from Greece if more money were extended.

“The Greek government is concerned that a headless I.M.F. translates into a diminished bargaining power for the Greek side,” said Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor and blogger at the University of Athens. “Despite the official unity between the I.M.F. and the E.U. on the Greek crisis, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has consistently showed greater sympathy for the plight of George Papandreou and a better grasp than the E.U. of the importance of not putting more pressure on Greece than the country can bear.”

Trailing after Hungary, Latvia and Iceland, Greece was one of the first euro zone countries to seek outside financial aid after the worldwide financial crisis. It proved to be a grand stage on which Mr. Strauss-Kahn would prove that the fund, after more than a decade of not doing much, could reinvent itself as a powerful global actor.

Former I.M.F. employees described Mr. Strauss-Kahn as a micromanager on European matters, especially on the three European bailouts that he oversaw — Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

Greek newspapers have reported recently that for many months before the Greek bailout last May, Prime Minister George Papandreou sought the counsel of Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French economist who was often cited for his deft political touch, also worked closely with Europe’s top leaders on the rescue plans, leveraging his relationships with leaders like Jean-Claude Trichet at the European Central Bank and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy — despite their political differences.

In restoring stature to the I.M.F., Mr. Strauss-Kahn managed to push his personal missteps into the background, including a 2008 affair with a co-worker at the fund, after which he acknowledged he had shown bad judgment. His success also allowed people to look past some inherent contradictions: a French socialist dedicated to solving global economic problems even as he favored the high life of elegant homes in Paris and Washington, fancy cars and lavish hotel rooms.

Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the I.M.F., who is now a professor at M.I.T., said Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been revived by the global financial crisis. “The Europeans had been late in waking up to the economic problems,” he said. “But he coaxed rather than bullied them into action. In so doing, he used the crisis as an opportunity to rehabilitate the I.M.F.’s reputation, and put it front and center in a way that it had not been before.”

Indeed, finding someone with the kind of boardroom muscle in Europe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn displayed will be challenging.

Graham Bowley and Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from New York.

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