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French rugby chief quizzed in financial conflicts case

PARIS (AP) — Questioned as part of a three-year financial investigation, French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte angrily compared the move on Tuesday to a coup 10 days before his re-election contest.

France’s national financial prosecution office confirmed Laporte, businessman Mored Altrad, and three other senior officials in French rugby were being questioned as part of a preliminary inquiry opened in 2017.

The inquiry into suspected conflicts of interest between Laporte -- formerly the national coach and sports minister in France’s government -- and Altrad, whose multinational construction equipment firm is a federation sponsor.

Laporte denounced the pre-election timing as a “revolting” tactic, in a letter to French rugby clubs published on his verified Facebook page. “It’s obvious that I am angry,” Laporte wrote to the clubs. “They attempt by unbelievable means to steal this election from you.”

Leader of the federation since 2016, Laporte faces an election contest against one opponent, Florian Grill. Votes are cast on Oct. 2-3. Laporte, who is also vice chairman of World Rugby, said the investigators refused to delay interrogating him, citing difficulties in coordinating their schedules.

“There was objectively no longer any urgency to hear from me before the election,” he wrote, claiming the refusals were “unworthy” of the justice system in a country like France. Laporte said he had “nothing to reproach myself for” in a case that alleges he intervened in a disciplinary case to benefit Altrad’s club, Montpellier.

The Paris-based financial prosecution office said the other officials being questioned were Serge Simon, Claude Atcher and Nicolas Hourquet. Simon is the FFR vice president, and Atcher is CEO of the 2023 Rugby World Cup organizing committee.

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