Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation and deputy chairman of World Rugby, claims he has been caught up in a corruption inquiry as part of a coup to oust him from power.
Laporte was questioned on Tuesday by prosecutors who have spent the past three years looking into claims that Laporte put pressure on the French league’s appeal committee into reducing a fine imposed on Montpellier from €70,000 to €20,000 because a company he owns had an image rights contract with the Altrad Group, the club’s owners.
Laporte, in a letter to the FFR’s member clubs, said he had asked for his questioning to wait until after the election for president next week. He is standing again and wrote: “It is a real coup attempt, part of a nauseating electoral strategy: the motivation of the perpetrators is beyond doubt. A coordinated campaign of destabilisation is sweeping down French rugby.”
Also questioned were Mourad Altrad, whose company has since become the French national side’s sponsors, FFR officials and Laporte allies Serge Simon and Nicolas Hourquet as well as Claude Atcher, the chief organiser of the 2023 World Cup, which the FFR clinched despite World Rugby’s board recommending that South Africa host the event.
“I am eager to express myself in what is a preliminary inquiry,” Laporte told the clubs. “There was, objectively, no urgency to hear from me before the election. Faced with the risk of interference with the electoral process and the fairness of the ballot, we requested a postponement of a few days from the prosecutor in charge.
“This was refused with scheduling difficulties the only explanation. I can only see it as a design. The press campaign will be skilfully orchestrated to create a bad buzz and it will have one objective: to present myself in your eyes as guilty. They are trying by incredible means to steal this election from you. This timetable is appalling and unworthy of the functioning of an enlightened democracy. I say it loud and clear: we will fight, resist, and revolt.”
Laporte did not say who he believed was behind what he called a coup attempt, but at the end of his letter he said: “Like me, you want a powerful federation, defending its strong amateur clubs and its radiant France XV. To those who have other plans, who think they can abandon amateur clubs to their fate and think that the France XV is not important, they will always find me in their way and will have to answer for their actions.”
World Rugby said there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing in France’s successful World Cup bid.