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 procedures 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.

First Ticket-Sales Results from Cannes

Interviewed tonight in Cannes by France 2 TV-news, Luc Bresson said he has no intention of filming '5th Element IV.' The first and probably only version of the movie, which opened last weekend during the current 50th Cannes Film Festival, made a good box-office score for its first weekend of exhibition. The movie-crazed French film public bought two million tickets, while American cinemas recorded 2.5 million sold seats.

Offshore Duty-Free Gas Station

While hoopla and huzza are churning up their usual Cannes turmoil between the festival palace and the shoreline, customs inspectors are annoyed at the entrepreneurial activities of a floating gas-station, anchored about 40 sea miles offshore from Cannes.

A small tanker, the 'Orion,' flying the Russian flag, has 13 million litres of millionaire-yacht boat-fuel for sale, and with communications being the way they are, word-of-mouth has gotten around pretty fast. The 'Orion' is open 24 hours a day and business is brisk.

The attraction is five-franc a litre gas for three francs; which represents a 40 percent saving. While customers are waiting for their big tanks to fill, they can also stock up at the 'Orion's' dutyfree shop, which carries popular brands of cigarettes and booze.

French customs agents are watching the operation carefully and are stopping some boats at the territorial limit; to give them harassment searches - but they are not laying charges.

The 'Orion's' lawyers must have read EU rules carefully before the business started, and now custom's lawyers are doing the same thing - but for the moment, 'offshore' seems to be the same place as 'foreign.' There are limits on the amounts of goods that can be brought into the EU duty-free; and it seems as if the limit for fuel tanks is set at full.

Yes We have Sports News, But It's Sour and Sweet

Paris' football team, Paris-Saint-Germain, has been having a yo-yo season in the French league. Try as it might, it has been unable to catch league-leader Monaco, and this failure is often dramatically reported in Le Parisien's sports news.

Within Europe there are all sorts of other trophies to be fought over, and this week PSG went up to Rotterdam to have it out with Barcelona - 'Barca' to its fans. The reason they have these matches on neutral turf, is their fans like to fight over various issues too - so the matches are held where the number of 'local' fans are fewer - out of town, in other words.

Football - soccer - is taken more seriously in Spain than in France and if the best players are for sale, then Barcelona can afford them, regardless of cost. Thus, the day before the match, Le Parisien's entire coverage was about 'Barca's' atomic weapon, a 20-year old player from Brazil named Luis Nazarlo de Lima, who is called 'Ronaldo.'

Le Parisien's front-page headline Tuesday, "The Best Player in the World Talks to Us," seemed to spell doom in advance for PSG. Ronaldo played for PSV Eindhoven for two years after they paid 50 million francs for him, and Turkish resto on Saint-Denis it seems as if 'Barca' paid 100 million last summer. Le Parisien devotes the first four pages to Ronaldo's saga.

Turkish restaurant and grocery in the rue du Faubourg St-Denis.

Okay, I will skip Wednesday's edition with the headline, "Give Us Back Our Cup!" - PSG won it last year - to pass directly to Thursday's headline, "Dommage!" Ronaldo wiped out PSG with a penalty goal 36 minutes into the game.

Surprisingly, including the front-page, the news of the PSG loss takes up the first six pages of Thursday's La Parisien - with reports of Marseille and Perpignan fans supporting Barca over PSG, mixed with gloom in Parisian pizzerias.

Here's the 'Sweet'

Friday's editions have the first four pages about Prime Minister Alain Juppé and a Monday meeting he had with Le Parisien's readers, and the PSG basketball victory over Villeurbanne is buried on page 16.

This was a French league championship match, and PSG won it for the first time in 43 years. Jacky Renaud, PSG's manager, said he hopes the Chicago Bulls win the US' NBA Championship, because if they do, they will face PSG at Bercy in October. The Paris club has two American players on the team.

If the Chicago Bulls do not win the NBA title, PSG will just have to settle for playing against some other unknown but suddenly famous US team that did.

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