Laporte/Altrad case: the end of the lawsuit
Announced at the beginning of the year, the trial of Bernard Laporte before the Criminal Court of Paris took place from 7th to 22nd September.
The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) had decided to prosecute the President of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), Bernard Laporte, for five offences: illegal taking of interest; passive influence peddling by a public official; passive corruption by a person entrusted with a mission of public service; concealment of misuse of corporate assets; and breach of trust.
Also on trial alongside him were the owner and president of the Montpellier rugby club (MHR) and main sponsor of the French national team’s jersey, Mohed Altrad, the vice-president of the FFR, Serge Simon, the former head of the France 2023 public interest grouping, which is organising the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Claude Atcher, and the manager of the Sport XV company and Claude Atcher’s right-hand man, Benoît Rover.
But what exactly is Bernard Laporte accused of?
The French Brigade for the Repression of Economic Delinquency (BRDE) submitted a report to the PNF which highlights several elements.
An image contract
In February 2017, the companies BL Communication and Altrad Investment Authority, respectively headed by Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad, signed an image contract.
The former Secretary of State for Sports under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, who testified that the FFR had no links with companies in which he held financial interests, is accused of having kept this agreement secret, whereas Mohed Altrad’s company owns a rugby club and is a co-contracting party of the FFR. On the other hand, the value of the contract (which amounts to 150,000 euros) was allegedly overestimated and the services due by BL Communication not carried out.
In return, Bernard Laporte assisted Mohed Altrad and his club on several occasions.
Intervention of the FFR in favour of the Altrad group for the purchase of the Gloucester club
As early as 2016, when Gloucester Rugby Club was for sale, Bernard Laporte allegedly lobbied various international rugby authorities in favour of Mohed Altrad, who wanted to acquire control of the club.
Although this takeover was not followed up, the judges are likely to pay close attention to Bernard Laporte’s actions.
Appeals with the FFR Appeals Committee
In June 2017, the MHR appealed a penalty imposed by the disciplinary committee of the National Rugby League (LNR) following the raise by Montpellier supporters of banners that were hostile to the league.
The investigators emphasise that the decision of the disciplinary appeal committee allegedly initially set the penalty to a 70,000 euro fine and a game played behind closed doors, but then reduced it the next day to a 20,000 euro fine only.
On the same day, Bernard Laporte is said to have phoned the president of the disciplinary appeal commission, Jean-Daniel Simonet, seven times.
While the facts are not disputed, Bernard Laporte denies exerting any pressure, while Jean-Daniel Simonet noted that commission is independent.
A sponsorship contract
It was also in 2017 that the FRR chose its new equipment supplier for the XV de France jersey, Altrad Investment Authority, for an amount of 6.8 million euros.
Yet Serge Simon had offered 9.9 million euros to other potential partners.
The investigators are questioning the existence of any favouritism towards the company of which Mohed Altrad is president, to the detriment of its competitors, following a procedure that was too quick and without sufficient publicity or transparency.
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The allegations are serious and the BRDE’s report used in support of the accusation is particularly damning. The defendants could incur heavy sentences. The PNF has requested a three-year prison sentence, two of which are suspended, a fine of 50,000 euros and a two-year ban on exercising any function related to rugby, against Bernard Laporte. Mohed Altrad faces the same prison sentence, but with a fine of 200,000 euros and a ban on managing a commercial company. For the other defendants, the prison sentences are less severe, but they also risk a ban from holding any position in the world of rugby.
The verdict, expected on 13th December, does not bode well for the image of rugby, which was already tainted by recent events.
Indeed, the Public Interest Grouping (GIP) France 2023, organiser of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, officially dismissed its General Manager Claude Atcher on 11th October. Atcher, who had already been suspended by the French Ministry of Sports since the end of August, was initially investigated by the Labour Inspectorate following allegations of rough management. If his behaviour proves to be contrary to employment law, he also risks legal action from the Ministry and employees.
With just one year to go before the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off, and with major figures of French rugby at the heart of various scandals, the uncertainty remains.