FFR headquarters searched in Laporte probe
Police today raided the headquarters of the FFR, the French rugby federation, as part of an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest involving the governing body’s president Bernard Laporte.
Laporte, whose house is also said to have been searched, has been accused of putting pressure on the FFR’s appeal commission to reduce sanctions against Top 14 club Montpellier, which is owned by a close associate, Mohad Altrad, a Syrian billionaire.
Prosecutors have now decided to open a formal probe that could lead to Laporte (pictured) facing preliminary charges.
Earlier this month, the FFR ratified a controversial and first-ever shirt sponsorship agreement for the national team with Altrad’s eponymous company, which specialises in construction materials.
Altrad was the sole bidder in the FFR’s invitation to tender, and is to pay an average of €6.8 million ($8.35 million) per season for the rights, plus potential performance-related bonuses.
Laporte, the former coach of the French national team and the ex-sports minister, was accused of favouritism after it emerged that BL Communication, a company he manages, had signed a one-year “image deal” with Altrad worth €150,000.
The FFR’s appeals committee also reduced a sanction against Montpellier imposed for banners displayed by supporters, after Laporte had spoken to Jean-Daniel Simonet, the committee’s chairman.
Laporte later pulled out of the BL Communication-Altrad contract but was the subject of an investigation by the French Sports Ministry and subsequently the public prosecutor.
The FFR said today that, following the referral to the prosecutor, a "search" was carried out, describing it as "the first required action in any financial investigation."
The federation added that Laporte wishes to underline that "this does does not determine in any way the outcome of the ongoing investigation."
Reacting to the approval of the sponsorship deal, Laporte underlined that the agreement would not represent a “conflict of interests” for the FFR given the ethics committee had “attested to the existence of a similar situation in other [sporting] disciplines.”
However, those comments appeared to be a reference to any concerns over the company of a Top 14 club president helping to bankroll the federation.
A first-ever France shirt sponsor was part of Laporte’s election manifesto in 2016, and Altrad came on board, in a short-term deal, in March last year. Until now, its logo has been displayed on the front of the shirts, below that of France’s (ultimately successful) bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.