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Corruption trial against Bernard Laporte opens on Wednesday

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

French rugby president Bernard Laporte, the current World Rugby vice-chairman, will be in court this Wednesday in France to answer allegations of corruption. The ex-Test team coach has been accused of being the cornerstone of a system that favours Mohed Altrad, the multi-billionaire businessman and president of Montpellier, and Claude Atcher, the administrator recently suspended from his position as general manager of the 2023 World Cup. 

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Five defendants will try to counter the accusations, including Serge Simon, the FFR vice-president, in a case expected to last until September 22. According to an AFP report published on rugbyrama.fr, Laporte’s lawyer Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi believes his client will be exonerated. “The grievances made against Bernard Laporte are perfectly artificial, in particular because the acts performed were all in the interest of the federation,” he assured. 

However, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) begs to differ as its investigation into the dealings of Laporte, who was minister for sports in president Nicolas Sarkozy’s government from 2007 to 2009, concluded that he was guilty of illegal influence-peddling and passive corruption, mostly for the benefit of Altrad.

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The report read: “The two men’s friendship and business links are at the heart of the case, which goes back to February 2017 when they signed a deal under which Laporte, then head of the FFR federation, agreed to appear in the Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for 180,000.

“But while that sum was indeed paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he never actually provided the services he signed up for. He did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed a 1.8m deal with the businessman making his eponymous firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

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“Even now, Altrad’s logo features on the team’s shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. Laporte is further accused of intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission which reduced a fine against an Altrad company to 20,000 after a call from Laporte from an original 70,000.

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“While prosecutors see this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself claimed that there was no ‘cause-effect relationship’, and said he himself cancelled the contract in the summer of 2017 when press reports began to question the nature of the relationship between the two men.

“The trial will also examine the links between Claude Atcher and the FFR from 2017 to 2018 when Atcher’s company, Sport SV, won contracts for four missions, mostly linked to the French bid for the 2023 World Cup.

“Prosecutors say one of those contracts, worth 21,000, was never carried out, but Laporte still signed off on a bonus payment to Sport XV of 30,000. Prosecutors say the deals swindled the FFR out of an estimated total of 80,000. Five years of investigation have shaken the French rugby world and hurt Laporte’s reputation, but he still got himself re-elected as FFR boss at the end of 2020.” 

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