French rugby president Bernard Laporte has rejected demands for his resignation, despite being mired in a potential conflict of interests scandal that has prompted five members of the French Rugby Federation's (FFR) Appeals Board to quit.
Laporte -- the former head coach of the French national side and a sports minister under Nicolas Sarkozy -- is accused of using his influence to persuade the board to reduce or overturn sanctions against Top 14 giants Montpellier. The club is owned by billionaire businessman Mohed Altrad, whose construction company became the first shirt sponsor of the French national teams earlier this year and is a partner in France's bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The scandal erupted after it emerged that a company owned by Laporte, BL Communications, had signed a €150,000 consultancy agreement with the Altrad Group, which would see the FFR president host a series of lectures to senior employees.
Laporte denies the allegations, telling Le Parisien newspaper that he did not seek to influence the board's decision -- but telephoned appeals board chairman Jean-Daniel Simonet to offer "political perspective".
One of the sanctions, a €70,000 fine and a one-match stadium ban for allowing fans to display banners protesting against the proposed merger between Racing 92 and Stade Francais last April, was reduced the day after it was imposed in June to a €20,000 fine only.
Laporte said he made his intervention in a bid to avoid further conflict between the FFR and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), which runs France's professional leagues, after the acrimonious fallout from the failed merger of the two Paris clubs, which ended in France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat.
The revelations, first published in weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche, have prompted the resignations of several members of the appeals board -- and forced Laporte to walk away from the lucrative consultancy deal with the Altrad Group.
But, in a thinly veiled attack on the LNR, with whom he has a strained relationship, Laporte insisted that the allegations were intended to slow down his "ambitious" reforms of the game in France, which he said would "benefit amateur rugby and the national side".
He questioned the motives of the first board member to quit, lawyer Philippe Peyramaure -- whose resignation letter was revealed to the Journal du Dimanche.
"Why does this gentleman resign only now, two months after the fact?" Laporte demanded in the interview with Le Parisien. "Why is he waiting for an article to speak? If he were ... so professional, and so independent ... he would not have signed the minutes of the meeting of which he was the secretary, and would have resigned on the spot."
The furore has, however, attracted the interest of Laura Flessel, France's current sports minister.
Laporte met with Flessel on Monday, with the FFR confirming on Wednesday that it had appointed judge Francis Szpiner to deliver recommendations for the creation of a 'High Authority for Transparency'.
"My office has talked with him, he has submitted files, we are in full reflection," Flessel had told BFM Sport. "We expect further feedback and then we will have to decide."
But she insisted that France's candidacy for the 2023 World Cup would continue "with or without" Laporte's involvement.