Summoned to the criminal court at 1:30 p.m., the former coach of the Blues (2000-2007) is suspected of having, for consideration, favored his friend and co-defendant, the multi-billionaire businessman Mohed Altrad, whose construction group has won in 2017 the first jersey sponsorship contract in the history of the XV of France.
Montpellier Hérault Rugby, the Top 14 club owned by Mr. Altrad, would also have benefited from several favorable decisions, through Mr. Laporte, who will have to answer in particular for “passive corruption”, “illegal taking of interests” and “passive influence peddling”.
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.
Renowned for his outspokenness, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former Secretary of State for Sports promises to fight “perfectly artificial grievances” and to show that he has always acted “in the interest of the federation”, assures the AFP his lawyer Me Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi.
The friendship and business ties between Bernard Laporte and Mohed Altrad form the heart of this file which has shaken French rugby.
In February 2017, they signed a contract under which Bernard Laporte, who had just become president of the FFR, agreed to participate in communication operations for the Altrad group and ceded 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Laporte, in which the PNF sees the mark of corruption.
Other interventions made the investigators wince.
In June 2017, Mr. Laporte joined the Federal Disciplinary Committee 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Altrad was notoriously opposed. Seized, the Council of State will question “the legality” of the decision of the FFR.
Behind these interventions, the PNF sees illicit elevator referrals when the defense denounces “false causal links” and recalls that he waived his contract with Mr. 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 constructs”.
The trial will also 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, one of them (governance advice valued at 21,000 euros) was never carried out, which will not prevent Mr. 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 in this case, without foundation or justification”.