World Rugby to meet after vice-chairman's guilty verdict
REACTION: World Rugby Executive Committee is to hold a meeting, following confirmation that a court in France on Tuesday sentenced French Rugby Federation President Bernard Laporte to a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Laporte was convicted after the court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier.
He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years, but this is suspended pending an appeal that Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.
Laporte is the vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby.
Laporte’s lawyer confirmed following the ruling that he would appeal the charges.
In a statement, World Rugby said it noted the decision of the French court to sentence Laporte on corruption charges – which relate to domestic matters.
“The World Rugby Executive Committee will convene tonight [Tuesday] to determine the next steps in accordance with the international federation’s Integrity Code,” the statement said.
World Rugby said an update will be made following the meeting.
The body revealed also the governance processes it has in place:
* World Rugby’s governance structures are rated amongst the best in world sport according to The Association of Summer Olympic Federations (top band of 5 of 28 IFs)
* As part of a wide-ranging independent-led governance review, World Rugby adopted a new Integrity Code in May 2021, including a fit and proper persons test
* This was followed by the appointment of an independent ethics officer in 2022.
Earlier the court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and €50,000 fine – in exchange for a €180,000 US($191,000) image licensing contract.
Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.
At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, now 58, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.
According to the charges, which his defence said were “trumped up”, Laporte carried out illegal influence-peddling and passive corruption, mostly for the benefit of Altrad.
The two men’s friendship and business links are at the heart of the case.
It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte, head of the FFR, agreed to appear in Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.
But while that sum was indeed paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he never provided the services he signed up for.
Alongside the suspended sentences, Laporte has been handed a €75,000 fine.
Altrad has been handed an 18-month suspended prison sentence and fined €50,000.
Claude Atcher, the former general manager of the Rugby World Cup 2023, and FFR vice-president Serge Simon also learned their fates on Tuesday.
Atcher faced charges after his company, Score XV, won contracts for a number of projects, mostly related to France’s bid for the 2023 World Cup, which was ultimately never completed by the contracted agency.
Laporte, however, still signed off on bonus payments to Score XV.
Atcher and Benoit Rover, his successor at Score XV, have been acquitted of the charge of misuse of corporate assets in Score XV. The two men were also partially acquitted of ‘concealed work’ but were found guilty over a ‘given period’ and fined €5,000 each, plus face an additional €5,000 in fines from URSSAF.
Atcher and Laporte, however, were acquitted of a charge of breach of trust while Simon was acquitted of all charges.
Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed a €1.8-million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.
Even now, Altrad’s logo features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption.
Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism regarding Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.
He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against MHR to €20,000 – it was initially €70,000 – after several telephone calls from Laporte.
While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.
On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.
The verdict comes only nine months before the World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.
* Additional reporting by RugbyPass & AFP