Prosecutors seek jail time for French rugby boss in graft trial

·2 min read

French prosecutors on Tuesday demanded prison time for Bernard Laporte, a towering figure in French rugby, for corruption and influence-peddling in a high-profile trial making waves only a year before France hosts the World Cup.

The 58-year-old former France coach is accused of favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsor contract for the national side to a close friend, Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier.

As the trial neared its close, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, 58, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

They asked for his suspected accomplice Altrad to be handed the same punishment.

In addition, the prosecution called for a two-year ban on Laporte having any role in French rugby, and on Altrad running a business.

In practice in France, one year terms for such offences are usually converted to house arrest or the wearing of an electronic bracelet without the person going to prison.

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, which goes back to February 2017 when they signed a deal under which Laporte, head of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), agreed to appear in Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for 180,000 euros (then around $190,000).

But while that sum was indeed paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he never actually provided the services he signed up for.

He did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed a 1.8-million-euro deal with the businessman making his eponymous 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 is further accused of intervening with French rugby's federal disciplinary commission which reduced a fine against an Altrad company to 20,000 euros after a call from Laporte, from an original 70,000 euros.

While prosecutors see this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself has claimed there was no "cause-effect relationship".

Five officials are in the dock, also including Claude Atcher, who was recently suspended as managing director of the 2023 World Cup organisation, and French Rugby Federation (FFR) vice-president Serge Simon.

The trial closes on Thursday.

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