Police raid French Rugby HQ amid conflict of interest investigation

Police searched the French Rugby Federation HQ as part of an investigation into alleged conflict of interest. Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Police conducted raids at the French rugby federation headquarters on Tuesday amid an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest involving federation president Bernard Laporte.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that the national financial prosecutor's office ordered the police searches at the national centre of rugby in Marcoussis, outside Paris, where the France squad is preparing for the Six Nations.

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Laporte's place of residence was also raided, the person said.

Last month, French sports minister Laura Flessel gave justice officials the conclusions of an investigation into Laporte, who 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 close friend, Mohad Altrad.

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.

Montpellier's €70,000 ($85,000) fine was reduced to €20,000 ($24,500) and a one-game stadium ban cancelled after Laporte's intercession.

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

According to L'Equipe newspaper, a dozen police officers conducted the raids. The French federation did not immediately answer a message from the AP seeking comment.

Altrad, a Syrian-born French billionaire, also sealed a partnership with the French federation to become the first shirt sponsor of the Tricolors. Earlier this month, the French federation said its ethical committee considered the new sponsorship deal signed with construction equipment group Altrad did not cause a conflict of interest.

The five-year contract is expected to yield €35 million ($42 million) for amateur rugby. The Altrad group was the sole bidder.