Tapie On Trial, Again

Au Porto Bar

Has Nothing to Do With Offshore Gas - Duty-Free

Paris:- Saturday, 17. May 1997:- France's most interesting entrepreneur, Bernard Tapie, spent most of last week in the old courthouse in Marseille; instead of in jail or at the job he has as a boat broker when he is not in jail.

As far as I can figure out, Mr. Tapie has been accused of giving somebody five million francs of un-taxed money. He has not been charged with corruption; rather the charge is 'abus de biens sociaux.' This is a popular charge at the moment, even if nobody quite knows what it means - so it is perfectly suitable in this case.

Mr. Tapie was the owner and boss of the football club, Olympic Marseille. This was in addition to his main job as chief of the Bernard Tapie International Worldwide Corporation - or whatever its exact name is - or was. Mr. Tapie was also involved in politics; he generally ran for the socialists as a populist-leftist-Tycoon-Magnate - and as such was a national deputy as well as a member of the European Parliament.

Lately, Mr. Tapie has been having a series of judicial problems and he currently serving time on one conviction - except that he is allowed to have a day job, and I believe, he also gets weekends off.

The present court case is about football financing. Sitting in the dock in Marseille with Mr. Tapie are 19 others, and there are international warrants outstanding against a few no-shows. Enormous sums of money have apparently been paid to football players, the clubs that own their contracts, and the middlemen involved in all these deals.

The middlemen are interesting. They get commissions for selling a player, and they can get commissions for keeping their nose out of deals.

In one of these, a Mr. Manuel Ferreira-Barbosa cashed in 4.2 million francs for one player sold to Olympic Marseille, and then got another 1.5 million for not opposing the re-sale of the same player back to the club he came from - Benfica, of Portugal. Olympic Marseille paid 21 million francs for the New metro train on line one player, plus they settled a debt of 6.5 million the player owed his club. On the re-sale, Olympic Marseille got 10 million francs from Benfica.

'Borrowed' RATP billboard shows new Métro train on Line One.

Mr. Tapie claims he put 54 million francs of his own money into Olympic Marseilles. In a week's worth of reporting by Le Parisien about the trial, I can't figure out where these vast sums have come from. The issue, however, seems to be more about where they went - was the '600,000' actually paid to Mr. XYZ, or was it a device to escape taxes and place the money beyond the jurisdiction of French tax authorities?

The Tapie corporation operated in 75 countries; so he had no need of these, almost transparent, transactions. As far as the football goes, Tapie is saying that everybody does it - huge under-table payments, fake invoices, payments to fake people even. This may be true, but the entire French football management is not on trial with Mr. Tapie in Marseille.

This brings me around to the charge itself: 'abus de biens sociaux.' I think this means 'abuse of corporate funds,' but you can substitute 'association,' 'organization,' or 'society' for corporate. As legal entities, these formations have a stated purpose; and if their funds are used for some other purpose, it is an 'abuse,' and is illegal.

French political parties and their methods of campaign financing are getting hit by prosecutors with this charge, and some very big French corporations are also under investigation for the same thing. The daily papers are full of it.

As a populist, a politician and an unorthodox businessman, Mr. Tapie was no part of France's mainstream control structure. Mr. Tapie also has had the bad manners to have a mouth he is not afraid to use, to say thing that are not welcome.

He no longer has his corporation, his football club, his parliamentary seats, and he has only limited liberty. But he still has his mouth.

Tunnel Fire - Accident or Arson?

It is not yet official, but rumor has it that the Eurotunnel fire of 18. November last year, did not have a technical cause. The Boulogne-sur-Mer prosecutor is expected to release a report this week, concluding that the devastating fire on a shuttle train carrying trucks was started either inadvertently or by design.

This judicial surprise has come just as security committee of the French Ministry of Transport has issued a report identifying five major mistakes made at the time of the incident.

Basically, these involved procedurs taken after the fire was detected. It's hard to know if the interaction of mistakes caused by this sort of fire could have been simulated beforehand - but since it has happened, luckily without loss of life, the operators can profit from the experience and tunnel security will be that much greater.

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