French rugby chief Bernard Laporte released from police custody

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French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte. (Photo by Pierre Suu/Getty Images)
French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte. (Photo by Pierre Suu/Getty Images)

French rugby federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte was released from police custody on Wednesday, his lawyers announced, after a second day of questioning as part of an investigation into suspicions he favoured Top 14 club Montpellier.

Montpellier's billionaire owner Mohed Altrad and the chief organiser of the 2023 Rugby World Cup to be held in France, Claude Atcher, as well as two senior FFR officials, were also released.

Laporte, 56, a former coach of the France national team who is also vice-chairman of the game's global body World Rugby, is suspected of putting pressure on the appeals committee of the French league to reduce a disciplinary punishment against Montpellier in 2017.

A lawyer for one of the FFR officials, Serge Simon, who is close to Laporte, said the five men had been questioned about "everything", including the allocation of the 2023 World Cup.

Laporte, who is is standing for re-election as FFR president with the result expected on October 3, has blasted the timing of the questioning, claiming he is the victim of a "coup" aimed at derailing his campaign.

Simon's lawyer, Pierre Blazy, said the questioning focused on events from two years ago.

"It's scandalous because they could have been questioned in (a different format) or in 10 days' time. It's just 10 days from the elections now. You have to ask what is behind it."

Laporte, who also served as sports minister, has always denied intervening in favour of Montpellier but admits he had a telephone conversation with the head of the appeals committee, Jean-Daniel Simonet, before the decision was changed.

Inspectors at the sports ministry established that the committee's decision was "modified" in June 2017.

Laporte said in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien he had merely wanted to "enlighten" Simonet about the tensions in French rugby at that time.

Three months before the alleged events, the Altrad group, specialised in construction materials, became the main shirt sponsor of the French national team and threw its financial muscle behind the successful bid to host the 2023 World Cup.

In France, suspects can be detained for up to 48 hours.

After that period the Financial Prosecution Office can decide whether to continue the preliminary investigation, to open a judicial inquiry, or to end the investigation. In the latter case, it can choose to close the file without prosecution or to send the suspects to trial.

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