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Irish, Kiwi and Aussie rugby players questioned in France over rape complaint

Six Grenoble players including two Irishmen, two New Zealanders and an Australian, were detained by French police on Wednesday following a rape complaint, prosecutors said.

Irish, Kiwi and Aussie rugby players questioned in France over rape complaint
Grenoble players prepare for a match. Illustration photo: AFP

The six were detained and questioned at Grenoble police station following a complaint by a young woman that she had been raped by the players after meeting them at a nightclub following their Top 14 match against Bordeaux-Belges on March 11.

Bordeaux police investigating the complaint were dispatched to Grenoble to carry out the questioning of the players who arrived at the Grenoble police station at around 8:40 am (0740 GMT) on Wednesday.

Three were accompanied by lawyers while the other three were apparently not represented and entered the police station through a back door.

A lawyer for for one of the Irish players said her client was “serene” after being questioned for around two and a half hours.

“This was an evening between consenting young people and important elements will appear during the day,” she was quoted by regional daily Le Dauphine Libere as saying.

Police also questioned Grenoble club official Michel Martinez for two hours at the police station as a witness, the Dauphine Libere newspaper reported.

It said several other Grenoble club officials and players were also expected to be questioned during the day as witnesses.

On Friday Grenoble took the decision to sack the players facing accusations of drugging and raping a girl they met in a nightclub, the struggling French Top 14 side said.

“In order to avoid any confusion between the investigation, which concerns individual and private behaviour, and Grenoble Rugby club, we have decided to immediately lay off the players concerned as a precautionary measure,” the club said in a statement, without giving any details.

The alleged victim of the attack told police she met several Grenoble players in a nightclub last Saturday night after the club's Top 14 defeat in Bordeaux.

She said that some of them drugged her and then “forced her to go to a hotel where she was raped,” local media reported.

Grenoble club president Eric Pilaud previously told AFP that “if the case is confirmed, it's serious”.

He added that he “felt sick” at the idea that a rape had taken place.

In a statement the club said “it had total confidence in the legal system, while at the same time respecting the concept of presumption of innocence.”

It added that it would not be making any further comment until the investigation was concluded as it “did not want to interfere” with the inquiry.

Anglo rugby players in France have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks. 

All Black Ali Williams was caught in Paris buying cocaine late last month while Australian international James O'Connor was caught in possession of the drug.
 
This came just days after New Zealand rugby union legend Dan Carter was stopped for drink-driving in Paris.

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French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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