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Case against French rugby chief Laporte 'empty'

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Paris (AFP)

French rugby federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte said on Thursday the case against him was baseless, after he was released from police custody as part of an investigation into suspicions he favoured Top 14 club Montpellier.

Laporte, who is also vice-chairman of World Rugby, is suspected of putting pressure on the appeals committee of the French league to reduce a disciplinary punishment against Montpellier in 2017.

The side's billionaire owner Mohed Altrad and the chief organiser of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, Claude Atcher, as well as two senior FFR officials, were also freed.

"The dialogue with the investigators finally convinced me. Despite the advanced investigations, with colossal resources, press campaigns which incessantly kept bringing up the same theories... :the case is empty," Laporte wrote on Facebook.

"There's nothing concrete. Guesswork, interpration, scenarios," he added.

The 56-year-old is standing for re-election as FFR president with the result expected on October 3.

"This was just in the media. With less than 10 days to go to our deadline, I legitimately ask myself. Who could profit from this storm?" Laporte said.

"Now knowing the position of this investigation, I am more serene than ever," he added.

Laporte, who also served as sports minister, has always denied intervening in favour of Altrad's side but admits he had a telephone conversation with the head of the appeals committee, Jean-Daniel Simonet, before the decision was changed.

Three months before the alleged events, the Altrad group, specialised in construction materials, was nFRA iamed France's shirt sponsor and threw its financial muscle behind the successful bid to host the World Cup in three years' time.

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