The strong man of rugby in front of the judges. Bernard Laportepowerful patron of the French Federation (FFR)appears in Paris for corruption and influence peddling alongside other pillars of the oval. 20 minutes comes back to the proponents of this file which has shaken French rugby, with at its heart the bonds of friendship and business between Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad.
Why is Bernard Laporte on trial from this Wednesday?
Convened at 1:30 p.m. before the criminal court, Bernard Laporte is tried for corruption and influence peddling. The former coach of the Blues (2000-2007) is suspected of having, for consideration, favored his friend and co-defendant, the man multi-billionaire businessman Mohed Altrad, whose construction group won the first jersey sponsorship contract in the history of the XV of France in 2017. Montpellier Hérault Rugby, the Top 14 club owned by Mohed Altrad, would also have benefited from several favorable decisions, through Bernard Laporte, who will have to answer for passive corruption, illegal taking of interests and passive influence peddling.
Who else is judged and why?
Claude Atcher, recently suspended from his duties as general manager of the 2023 World Cup, and the vice-president of the FFR, Serge Simon, are also among the five defendants who will parade at the helm until September 22. The trial will look at Claude Atcher’s links with the FFR in 2017-2018, when his company Sport XV was entrusted with four missions, mainly in connection with the French bid for the 2023 World Cup. According to the prosecution, the one of them (governance councils valued at 21,000 euros) has never been carried out, which will not prevent Bernard Laporte from granting Sport XV a bonus of 30,000 euros. In total, the damage for the FFR will be assessed by the investigators at 80,400 euros. According to his lawyer, Céline Lasek, Claude Atcher was “parachuted into this case, without foundation or justification”.
What made the investigators of the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office tick?
In February 2017, Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad sign a contract under which Bernard Laporte, who has just become president of the FFR, agrees to participate in communication operations for the Altrad group and cedes his image rights to it. All in return for a compensation of 180,000 euros. Problem, according to the prosecution: the sum is paid in 2017 but the contract will never be executed. At the same time, during this period, the boss of French rugby intervened several times in support of Mohed Altrad, arousing the suspicions of the executive, who took legal action at the end of 2017.
In March 2017, Bernard Laporte thus signed, on behalf of the FFR, but without notifying its marketing division, a first contract of 1.8 million euros which made Altrad the jersey sponsor of the Blues. The name of the group still appears there today under another contract of 35 million euros concluded in January 2018, still under the auspices of Bernard Laporte, in which the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) sees the mark of a corruption.
But that’s not all. In June 2017, Bernard Laporte joined the Federal Disciplinary Commission which imposed a fine of 70,000 euros on the Montpellier club on appeal. After this phone call, the penalty will be reduced to 20,000 euros. In March 2017, Bernard Laporte and his federation also opposed the decision of the National Rugby League, in charge of the professional sector, to postpone two Top 14 matches, one of which was to be played by Montpellier, a postponement to which Mohed Altrad was notoriously opposed. Seized, the Council of State will question “the legality” of the decision of the FFR.
What is Bernard Laporte’s defense?
Behind these multiple interventions, the PNF sees illicit elevator referrals when the defense denounces “false causal links” and recalls that Bernard Laporte waived his contract with Mohed Altrad in the summer of 2017, after initial revelations in the hurry. “There has never been a pattern of corruption and everyone has acted in accordance with their duties”, maintains Me Antoine Vey, Mohed Altrad’s lawyer, who castigates a “file of nothing at all” and based on “intellectual constructions”.
Renowned for his outspokenness, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former Secretary of State for Sports has promised, to combat “perfectly artificial grievances” and to show that he has always acted “in the interest of the federation”, assures his lawyer, Me Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi.