French boss Bernard Laporte steps back after suspended sentence

Bernard Laporte has agreed to be suspended as the French Rugby Federation president while he fights a suspended two-year sentence on corruption charges.

Laporte also “self suspended” as World Rugby vice chairman last week, within hours of a Paris court finding him guilty of passive corruption, influence peddling, illegal interest taking and misuse of corporate assets.

He was banned from holding any position in rugby for two years but his lawyer, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, said he would appeal the ruling, meaning the former France coach and sports minister can keep the FFR presidency for now.

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Laporte refused calls to resign from the French sports minister and the FFR’s own ethics committee.

But at a federation board meeting, Laporte told of “his desire to follow to the letter the injunction of the ethics committee of the French Rugby Federation”.

Laporte will remain president but is suspended until a final ruling in his case.

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He will no longer take part in decision making bodies nor sign any commitments on behalf of the FFR.

An interim president will be appointed until Laporte’s judicial appeal is finished.

French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said Laporte should benefit from the presumption of innocence until a final ruling was reached.

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But she insisted his sentencing put him in an untenable situation and called on French rugby to act. Laporte is set to meet with the minister on Thursday.

The case focused on Laporte and Mohed Altrad, the owner and president of Montpellier rugby club, who was also found guilty of active corruption, influence peddling, and misuse of corporate assets.

In 2017, Laporte was the subject of an investigation into an alleged conflict of interests and denied accusations that he pressured the FFR appeals board to reduce sanctions against Top 14 clubs Montpellier.

Following a three-month investigation, the French sports ministry said Laporte contacted the appeal commission president and stressed that the phone call resulted in commission members changing their decision.

That meant Montpellier’s fine of $112,000 was reduced to $32,000 and a one game stadium ban was canceled after Laporte’s intervention.

Altrad, a Syrian-born French billionaire and a close friend of Laporte, sealed a partnership with the federation to become the first shirt sponsor of the Tricolours in 2018.

The FFR said at the time its ethics committee judged the sponsorship deal did not cause a conflict of interest.

The Altrad group was the sole bidder. France hosts the Rugby World Cup next year.

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