Investigators meet Bernard Laporte as appeals committee suffers

Bernard Laporte was due to meet government-appointed investigators on Thursday. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte met government-appointed investigators Thursday to explain his role in a potential conflict-of-interests scandal that has rocked the Gallic game.

The meeting, at the FFR's Marcoussis headquarters, comes a day after a seventh member of the federation's 13-strong appeals committee resigned amid allegations that Laporte used his influence to reduce sanctions imposed against Top 14 club Montpellier.

Following his intervention, a €70,000 fine and a one-match stadium ban -- imposed following public protests at the Altrad Stadium over the failed merger between Racing 92 and Stade Francais -- was cut to a fine of €20,000 only.

It later emerged that a company Laporte owns, BL Communications, had previously signed a lucrative consultancy deal with the construction giant owned by Montpellier's billionaire president Mohed Altrad. That contract has since been shredded.

The latest resignation has paralysed the appeals process in French rugby, according to reports. The committee is now so short-staffed that it is only hearing cases from amateur levels of the game.

Players in the country's two professional leagues, the Top 14 and ProD2, have had their hearings postponed until the committee is back up to full strength.

As a result, a number of rugby stars find themselves in limbo. Clermont lock Flip van der Merwe, who is in the process of appealing against a seven-week ban for a high-tackle during last season's semifinal against Racing 92, is one of those caught up in the logjam.

The appeals committee is set to confirm new appointments to fill the six vacant seats on Friday, Sept. 22 -- the day before the fifth weekend of the Top 14 season kicks off, by which time van der Merwe will have served five weeks of his seven-week ban.

Others whose hearings have been postponed include Stade Francais second row Abdellatif Boutaty, who is waiting to learn if his appeal against his status as a non-JIFF player is approved. A tightening quota system in the professional game could limit his opportunities if his status is not changed.

Meanwhile, Racing's Anthony Tuitavake, who was sent off for a dangerous tackle at the weekend could also be caught up in any backlog if he decides to appeal against any ban imposed when he goes before the citing committee next week.

FFR vice-president Maurice Buzy-Pucheu said the replenished appeals committee would convene as soon as possible after Sept. 22 to hear appeals. "For professional clubs, we do not want our decisions to be subject to interpretations, so we will wait," he said.

The FFR, meanwhile, declined to comment further to ESPN, "while the investigation is ongoing."

"We will examine the findings [of the inquiry] in due course," a spokesperson said.