Bernard Laporte financial questioning comes as France are set to hold the World Cup.
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte was detained for questioning on Wednesday – the latest judicial twist in his battles over allegations of financial wrongdoing.
France’s national prosecution office that investigates financial crimes said police were questioning Laporte for suspected tax-related wrongdoing.
Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, one of Laporte’s lawyers, said his client had not expected to be detained after being summoned by the police for questioning about a personal tax case.
That probe has been running since August 2020 and is still in its preliminary stage, meaning Laporte isn’t facing a formal tax-related charge at this point. Still, his legal difficulties are mounting.
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Laporte agreed to be suspended as French Rugby Federation president last month while he separately fights a suspended two-year sentence on corruption charges. A Paris court found him guilty of passive corruption, influence peddling, illegal interest taking and misuse of corporate assets.
Laporte also self-suspended as World Rugby vice-chairman.
Versini-Campinchi questioned the timing of Laporte’s detention, which came amid an ongoing vote by French rugby clubs on whether to accept Patrick Buisson as interim president, with the results expected Thursday.
“There is a relentlessness, they don’t like Laporte,” the lawyer said, adding that making the case public by leaking it to the media could influence the result of the vote.
The former NZR boss said there can be only one focus for the rugby body when discussing the sponsorship deal.
“Financial prosecutors chose to summon Bernard Laporte during the vote for the designation of the interim president of the federation,” he said.
Laporte picked Buisson as interim president after he was sentenced by the court. Laporte was also banned from holding any position in rugby for two years but appealed the ruling, meaning the former France coach and sports minister could keep the French federation presidency.
Laporte first refused calls to resign but – under pressure from the French sports minister and the federation’s own ethics committee – agreed to take a step back.
Laporte can remain in his position until his judicial appeal is finished, but will no longer take part in decision-making bodies, or sign any commitments on behalf of the FFR, with the interim president running the federation.
Laporte’s judicial worries have tarnished the preparations for the World Cup, which will kick off in France in September.
Another top official, former 2023 Rugby World Cup chief executive Claude Atcher, was fired last year following an investigation by French labor inspectors into his workplace conduct.