Laporte investigation files handed to French justice

PARIS — French sports minister Laura Flessel has given justice officials the conclusions of an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest involving French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte.

Laporte, the former France coach and sports minister, has denied accusations that he pressured the French federation's appeals board to reduce sanctions against Top 14 club Montpellier, which is owned by his friend, Mohad Altrad.

The Syrian-born French billionaire also sealed a deal earlier this year with the French federation to become the first shirt sponsor of the Tricolors.

Following a three-month investigation, the French sports ministry said Laporte contacted the appeal commission's president on June 30 and stressed that the phone call resulted in "a change of decision from commission members. Evidence is lacking so far to know the exact content of the phone call."

Montpellier's 70,000 euro fine was reduced to 20,000 euros and a one-game stadium ban canceled after Laporte's intercession.

Prosecutors can now decide to open a formal investigation that could lead to Laporte being handed preliminary charges.

In a statement published Tuesday, the French federation, known as FFR, stressed the lack of evidence pointed out by the sports ministry.

"The FFR is pleased that justice officials can soon lift the suspicion weighing on the decisions rendered," it said.

The federation added it will submit to the sports minister a plan aiming at improving the good functioning of its appeals board.

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