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French tycoon Tapie loses appeal, starts prison sentence

February 5, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Former Cabinet minister and bankrupt tycoon Bernard Tapie started an eight-month prison sentence Tuesday after losing his final appeal of a bribery conviction.

Tapie was found guilty of offering bribes to soccer players to throw a game so the team he owned, the champion Olympique Marseille soccer club, could win.

Tapie, 53, was sentenced in November to two years in prison with 16 months suspended. France’s highest court rejected Tapie’s appeal on Tuesday, ending three years of legal proceedings.

Tapie turned himself in to Paris’ La Sante prison on Monday evening to meet French legal requirements that he spend at least one night behind bars before his appeal could be heard.

In court, chief prosecutor Germain Le Foyer de Costil attacked Tapie’s conduct in bribing three players from the Valenciennes club to ensure victory for his Marseille team in a May 20, 1993, game.

Tapie, the former owner of the Adidas sports company and urban affairs minister under the Socialists, had also been accused of paying coach Boro Primorac to modify his testimony after the match-fixing was revealed.

``Soccer has come out of this sordid, stained and dirty,″ de Costil told the court.

Tapie’s lawyer, Emmanuel Piwnica, argued that the court had no right to rule in favor of prison without special authorization by the French National Assembly regarding his parliamentary immunity.

The prosecutor said that the immunity issue was aimed at protecting institutions, not individuals. In any event, the flamboyant businessman was forced from the French Parliament in September, a move that took away his customary parliamentary immunity in that institution.

The French government has declared Tapie unfit to serve in the European Parliament, where he still represents the French Socialists. A European Parliament committee is currently exploring ways of expelling Tapie.

Filming of his second movie, ``Fifi Martingale,″ with New Wave director Jacques Rozier, began recently. Tapie starred in director Claude Lelouch’s box office hit ``Men, Women, Instructions,″ which was released in August.

In May, Tapie will face a new trial on charges of misusing corporate funds while president and owner of Olympique Marseille.

Also convicted of tax evasion, and barred from holding French office for five years, Tapie is currently in personal and corporate bankruptcy proceedings.

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