Lagarde launches Brazil charm offensive for top IMF post

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France's Christine Lagarde on Monday was looking to rally support for her bid to lead the International Monetary Fund on a visit to Brazil, one of several emerging nations seeking an end to Europe's stranglehold on the powerful post.

Lagarde, France's finance minister, was due here Monday on the first stop of her tour, for a working lunch with her Brazilian counterpart Guido Mantega and Brazilian central bank chief Alexandre Tombini.

"I have proposed to Brazil, China, India and certain African countries" to pay them a visit, she told Europe 1 radio earlier, adding that Brazil is her first stop because it was the first state to respond to her proposal.

Brazil is among so-called BRICS, the group of emerging economic powers that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which have criticized the Europeans' grip on the IMF, but not yet agreed on a candidate of their own.

Lagarde, a 55-year-old former lawyer, has been France's finance minister since 2007 and is heavily favored to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the top IMF official.

Strauss-Kahn, who is also French, has been charged with sexual assault in New York and resigned May 19. Strauss-Kahn is on bail in the United States awaiting trial for attempted rape.

By tradition, a European -- most often from France -- has led the IMF since its beginning in 1945, while the United States supplied the president of the World Bank.

European countries consider Lagarde's appointment as the next head of the IMF all but a done deal, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed her candidacy, a European official told AFP at the G8 summit.

So far, Lagarde has two declared rivals: Mexico's central bank chief Agustin Carstens and Kazakh central bank boss Grigory Marchenko.

Brazilian officials have said that Carstens, another leading candidate for the position of IMF managing director, was expected in Brasilia on Wednesday.

But Brazil and other BRICs have not agreed on any candidate, much less one with the broad support Lagarde so far already has drummed up.

Brazil, like other emerging powers, likely wants to boost its own profile inside the IMF, and may seek some guarantee that the next managing director is from one of the BRICs.

A silver-haired former champion synchronized swimmer, Lagarde chaired top US law firm Baker and McKenzie before she was persuaded to abandon her Chicago boardroom by then Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

De Villepin made her France's trade minister, and she later took over the agriculture portfolio.

Her candidacy got a major boost at the G8 summit held in Deauville, France. Just two days after she started campaigning officially she had amassed a united bloc of support from European nations, and also enjoys the likely support of Russia and the United States.

The IMF is due to publish the full list of candidates seeking to become the next managing director by June 17. The final selection is expected to be announced by June 30.

The executive board, whose members represent a country or a group of countries, is aiming to select the next chief by consensus, but it could resort to a vote.

© 2011 AFP

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