Less than a year from the World Cup in France, the decision was eagerly awaited by the tricolor Ovalie. The president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), Bernard Laporte, and Mohed Altrad, owner of the Montpellier club and sponsor of the Blues jersey, were sentenced by the Paris criminal court on Tuesday, December 13, for corruption.
In detail, Mr. Laporte was found guilty of illegal taking of interests for the signing, on behalf of the FFR, of the contract with Altrad Investment Authority (AIA), the holding company of the Altrad group. He was also found guilty of the offense of influence peddling, passive corruption for four interventions and the offense of concealment of misuse of corporate assets. For these facts, he was given a two-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros.
In accordance with the requisitions of the prosecution, Mr. Laporte is also sentenced to a two-year ban on exercising a function related to rugby.
Justifying the condemnation by the “seriousness of the facts”the president of the court noted the “misunderstanding” by Bernard Laporte of “principles of ethics” which he was nevertheless responsible for applying. “Each of his actions [a été] guided by a bias towards Mohed Altrad”she clarified when reading the decision.
Mr. Altrad was convicted of active bribery, influence peddling and misuse of corporate assets. He was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 euros. He was also banned from running a business for two years. Awarded the prize for the world entrepreneur of the year in 2015, thirty-first fortune of France in 2021 according to Challengeswith a heritage estimated at nearly 4 billion euros, the businessman of Syrian origin, at the head of a group which employs fifty-two thousand people worldwide, took over the Hérault club in 2011 , then on the verge of bankruptcy.
The latter, reigning French champion, clarified on Tuesday afternoon that he was not “neither targeted nor impacted by this decision” and added that “Mohed Altrad will continue[it] to invest his time and energy in his management missions for his club, his employees and his partners”.
Bernard Laporte appeals
These decisions are not enforceable, ie they may be suspended in the event of an appeal. Mr. Altrad will study the judgment before deciding, according to Antoine Vey, his counsel. “We reserve the right to appeal in the coming days”, he specified. As for Bernard Laporte, he announced his desire to appeal. “The offenses of corruption and influence peddling do not exist either in law or in fact”said his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi.
The governing body of world rugby, “World Rugby, takes note of the decision of the French justice to condemn the president of the French Rugby Federation [FFR] and vice-president of World Rugby, Bernard Laporte”. The executive committee of the Dublin body will meet in the evening “ to determine next steps in accordance with the International Federation’s Code of Integrity.”it was announced.
Florian Grill, leader of the opposition to the FFR, called for the holding of new elections, calling for the steering committee of the Federation to resign after the conviction of Mr. Laporte.
“It’s unprecedented in rugby, it’s an earthquake: we’ve never seen a federation president sentenced to two years in prison, even if it’s suspended. It’s a shock (…)it is believed that the forty members of the steering committee must draw the conclusions and resign »explained Mr. Grill to Agence France-Presse. “Justice has spoken but now the clubs need to speak”added the opponent.
Three other defendants were also tried in this file with drawers, opened in 2017. Claude Atcher, recently dismissed from the head of the organizing committee of the 2023 World Cup for managerial practices deemed “alarming”, was acquitted of the most serious charges of concealment of breach of trust. However, he was fined 5,000 euros for concealed work. Benoît Rover, partner of Claude Atcher in the company Score XV, will have to pay the same amount. The vice-president of the FFR, Serge Simon, who was suspected of illegal taking of interests, has been released.
Prosecuted for six offences, Bernard Laporte plays, beyond his legal situation, his image and that of the FFR, which he has chaired since the end of 2016 and which is today entirely focused on the next World Cup (September 8- October 28, 2023). At the helm, the former coach of the French XV had to explain himself on a series of arbitrations rendered in 2017 and 2018 in favor of his friend Mohed Altrad, with whom he had signed a confidential image contract paid 180,000 euros , with no clearly identified consideration.
Bound by what the prosecution considers a “corruption pact”Mr. Laporte would have favored the businessman, in particular by granting the Altrad group the very first jersey sponsorship in the history of the Blues, at the end of a winding process which had offended the historical partners of the XV tricolor. “The competition procedure was conducted so that only the AIA company makes a proposal”estimated the president of the court.
The boss of French rugby would also have intervened in 2017, on several occasions, in support of the interests of the Montpellier club, in particular to alleviate disciplinary sanctions against him. Under his leadership, the FFR also reversed the decision of the National Rugby League to cancel the postponement of two Top 14 matches which Mr. Altrad was notoriously opposed to. Prosecuted for these facts, Mr. Simon was acquitted by the court.
Facing the court, Mr. Laporte had “rejected altogether” the accusations, but sometimes struggled to justify his personal contract with Mr. Altrad, whose update by the press in the summer of 2017 had led the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) to open an investigation. “In my mind, there are no conflicts of interest”, had supported Nicolas Sarkozy’s former secretary of state for sports. The defense had denounced a case investigated, according to it, by the PNF and based on the “fantasy” of a corrupt pact.
New PNF investigation
Claude Atcher is the other central figure in this drawer file. At the head of his company Score XV, he had been recruited at the beginning of 2017 by Mr. Laporte to tie up France’s candidacy for the 2023 World Cup, then at a standstill. This former rugby player had contributed to the victory of the French file but would also have, according to the PNF, unduly received sums from the federation with the direct consent of Mr. Laporte, being guilty of concealment of breach of trust. At the end of the investigation, the damage for the FFR had been assessed at around 80,000 euros, an amount which had fluctuated according to the hearing, to the chagrin of the defense of Mr. Atcher, who had denounced a “judicial and media harassment”.
At the beginning of November, the organizing committee of the 2023 World Cup had also been raided as part of a new investigation by the PNF for favouritism, influence peddling and corruption, linked to possible irregularities in the ticketing of the next World Cup.