Judgment was reserved for December 13.
“You have here the perfect recipe for miscarriage of justice”, claimed Me Fanny Colin on behalf of the president of the French federation (FFR) Bernard Laporte, prosecuted in total for six offenses, pointing to the “cognitive bias” of the accusation which would have led “to retain only what confirms the original thesis”.
“If there is a file where we feel that there has been a manipulation (…), it is this one”, added Me Antoine Vey whose client Mohed Altrad, CEO of the giant of the BTP eponymous, also weighs in the oval: it sponsors the jersey of the XV of France and owns the Montpellier club, reigning champion of the Top 14.
According to the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), the two leaders would have sealed a “corruption pact” by concluding an image contract in February 2017 under the terms of which Mr. Laporte received 180,000 euros for services never performed.
Bound by this “original sin”, according to the expression of the PNF, Mr. Laporte would have made a series of arbitrations favorable to Mr. Altrad: the granting of the sponsorship jersey of the Blues in 2017-2018, an intervention to reduce a sanction disciplinary action against Montpellier or the cancellation of a postponement of matches to which the entrepreneur was notoriously opposed.
Against these “attacks on probity”, the prosecution demanded on Tuesday one year in prison against the two men, demanding a ban, for two years, for Mr. Laporte from exercising any function in rugby and for Mr. Altrad to run a company. Prison sentences were also required against the three other defendants in this trial, scrutinized one year from the World Cup in France.
According to Me Vey, this file is however based on a “fantasy of a corrupt pact”, nourished by “prejudices about the morality” of the two main defendants. “They say that Laporte, because he would be corrupt, wants to sell something to Altrad, but we don’t know what,” said the lawyer.
Me Colin digs the same furrow: the 2017 contract cannot be a corrupt pact because the remuneration is “nothing unusual” for a leader like Mr. Laporte but also because it is “quite the opposite of a secret act”: it is concluded between two companies and recorded in their accounts. “In terms of concealment, we could have done better,” ironically the lawyer.
Certainly, recognize their advice, the two leaders could have perceived the risk of conflicts of interest but that is not enough to characterize a “corruption”.
According to Me Vey, a fundamental element is missing for this: evidence. “There are no texts, no emails, no calls,” he says.
His colleague drives the point home by noting that “half of the interventions” reproached to Mr. Laporte were “not foreseeable” in February 2017 at the time of the signing of the supposed corruption pact, in particular the affair of the postponement of matches (March 2017).
Regarding the winding conditions under which the sponsorship of the XV of France jersey was sold, for 6.8 million euros, to the Altrad group in October 2017, Me Vey pleads “disorganization” to the FFR. “But is it abnormal? It’s the first time they’ve sold a shirt.”
However, the PNF would not have taken any of this into account, too busy “knowingly concealing the exculpatory elements”, accuses Me Colin.
This is also the opinion of the defense of Claude Atcher, deposed president of the organization of the Mondial-2023, prosecuted for having received supposedly undue funds from the federation. During the investigation, “the opening to the contradictory was pure facade”, estimates Me Céline Lasek, being surprised by the persistent vagueness around the amount of the damage for the FFR.
Affirming that he “understands nothing” who is accused of the vice-president of the FFR Serge Simon, his lawyer Sylvain Galinat, himself, spun the artistic metaphor: “When the work is not completed, it does not matter whether it is the PNF who holds the brush, it is the relaxation which is essential”.