Tue 22 Sep 2020 | 08:55

Laporte arrested, slams 'coup attempt'

Laporte arrested, slams 'coup attempt'
Tue 22 Sep 2020 | 08:55
Laporte arrested, slams 'coup attempt'
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UPDATE: French rugby federation President Bernard Laporte has issued a strongly-worded response to being taken into police custody on Tuesday.

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The 56-year-old is being questioned – alongside Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad – for his links with the Altrad Group, amid allegations of favouring the Top 14 club when sanctions were handed to them in 2017 for irregularities.

Also placed in custody for questioning, along with two other senior FFR officials, was the chief organiser of the 2023 World Cup, to be held in France, Claude Atcher.

Laporte, 56, a former coach of the France national team who is also vice-chairman of World Rugby, is suspected of pressuring the appeals committee of the French league, the Top 14, to reduce a disciplinary punishment against Montpellier in 2017.

The questioning comes as Laporte is standing for re-election as FFR chief with the result expected on October 3.

“With 10 days to go to a key deadline for our federation, an organised campaign of destabilisation is trying to take French rugby down,” Laporte said in an open letter to clubs published on Facebook later on Tuesday.

“It’s a true attempt at a coup of which there is no doubt about the motivation of the creators. It all adds up to a truly foul electoral strategy,” he added.

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Laporte has always denied intervening in favour of Montpellier but admits he had a telephone conversation with the head of the appeals committee, Jean-Daniel Simonet, before the decision was changed.

The former French coach insisted he will not be deterred from his campaign to be re-elected, saying: “I say it loud and clear: we will fight, resist, and revolt.

“I’m very respectful of the work of justice and I have been asking for months that this file be completed as quickly as possible. But the method is revolting. The prosecutor’s numerous refusals concerning the postponement of this hearing are unworthy of the justice of a country like France.

“When justice gets mixed up with politics, both are weakened. I will face this ordeal with strength and serenity. I have no responsibility whatsoever in this case, the contents of which I do not know.”

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He also directed his message to amateur clubs in France, saying: “They are trying by incredible means to steal this election from you, to steal your vote for which I fought.”

The post was signed off with an impassioned rallying call by the Frenchman. He said: “To those who have other designs, to those who think they can abandon amateur clubs to their fate, to those who think that the XV of France is not important, they will always find me on their way and they will have to answer for their actions.

“I am more determined than ever to defend this ideal. We must fight and resist. On October 3 at noon, it will be another page of victories for French rugby that will be written, because our team will win. The future is bright. I count on you as much as you can count on me.”

Inspectors at the sports ministry established that the committee’s decision was “modified” in June 2017.

The appeals committee reduced a fine for Montpellier from €70,000 (US$82,000) and a match played behind closed doors to €20,000.

Three months earlier, the Altrad group, specialised in construction materials, became the main shirt sponsor of the French national team and threw its financial muscle behind the ultimately successful bid to host the 2023 World Cup.

‘Important’ Altrad

Another member of the appeals committee, Philippe Peyramaure, said in a defamation trial last year Laporte had called Simonet “and said, in no uncertain terms, that Altrad was an important sponsor for the France team and a key backer for the 2023 bid… and that the punishment had to be removed.”

Laporte though said in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien he had merely wanted to “enlighten” Simonet about the tensions in French rugby at that time.

When the weekly publication Journal du Dimanche revealed the existence of Laporte’s alleged intervention in 2017, the newspaper also reported a company he owns, BL Communication, had signed an image rights contract with the Altrad Group.

Laporte eventually pulled out of the €150,000 deal.

Laporte’s questioning comes just two weeks before he faces a bid to regain the presidency against, Florian Grill, and risks disrupting the final stage of his re-election campaign.

Victory for Laporte, who was first elected FFR president in 2016, would leave him in charge of French rugby when the country hosts the World Cup for a second time.

In his club coaching career, Laporte led Parisians Stade Francais and Toulon, guiding the southern club to three straight European Cups.

This year Laporte supported former England captain Bill Beaumont’s successful campaign for re-election as head of World Rugby and was rewarded with the vice-president’s job.

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Laporte arrested, slams 'coup attempt' - france | Rugby365