Bernard Tapie: businessman and sports magnate beset by scandal


Bernard Tapie, a flamboyant French business mogul who raced cars, performed on television, served in parliament and owned one of the country’s premier football clubs, becoming an object of national fascination even as he faced to repeated scandals and went to prison for a bribery scheme, died at the age of 78.

Raised in the Paris suburbs, where his father worked in a refrigerator factory, Tapie became a multimillionaire before the age of 40, buying up struggling businesses, stripping them of their assets and selling them for a profit. Its holdings formerly included health food chain La Vie Claire, tennis racket maker Donnay and sportswear giant Adidas. “If there’s one thing I can do,” he said one day, “it’s dough.

Tapie used the proceeds to purchase what were then the tallest sailing ships in the world, an approximately 240-foot luxury schooner called the Phocaea; finance a cycling team that has won two consecutive Tour de France titles; and acquire a lackluster football club, Olympique de Marseille, which he transformed into a national and European champion.

Tanned and chubby, with bushy eyebrows and wavy black hair, he has sometimes been described as Frenchman Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media mogul who ran AC Milan football club and was four times prime minister. He maintained a similar populist appeal, becoming a direct spokesperson for the Socialist Party after calling far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen a “big mouth who should be slapped in the ass” during a 1989 televised debate. .

Tapie was elected to the French parliament that year as a member of parliament for Marseille and was quickly ranked in polls as one of the country’s most popular politicians, behind the president, prime minister and leader of the ‘National Assembly. He briefly served as Minister of Urban Affairs in President François Mitterrand’s cabinet and was cited as a potential successor, with rumors of ambition to move to the Elysee Palace.

But the “Zorro des affaires”, as French newspapers called it, saw its fortune evaporate in the mid-1990s, when it was declared bankrupt by a French court, found guilty of tax evasion and found guilty of offering bribes to three football players in a match-fixing scheme. Tapie spent six months in prison in 1997 for corruption and was banned from French football for life.

To some, his downfall was a wasteland for a flashy millionaire and cheerful self-promoter. “The collapse of Bernard Tapie has become a kind of symbol, the symbol of a triple failure: that of a tabloid company … ambition to” change life “”, wrote journalist Philippe Labarde in a column of The world.

(AFP / Getty)

Still, Tapie remained a beloved figure among admirers who said he faced the Parisian elite and among Marseille fans who gave him credit for ushering in the club’s glory years. After buying the team in 1986, he financed the acquisition of stars such as Fabien Barthez, Didier Deschamps and Jean-Pierre Papin, helping Marseille to win five consecutive French league titles. The club won the 1993 Champions League final, becoming the first and only French team to win Europe’s most prestigious soccer tournament, but were forced to relinquish their French title that year due the match-fixing scandal.

“I was rich, I’m not rich anymore,” said Tapie, seemingly unyielding. Le Figaro in 1995. “I was fashionable, I’m not anymore. I was president of a European Championship team, I am no longer. I have run businesses, I don’t do it anymore. Many French people have more to complain about than I do.

Rather than fade from public life, he appears in a film by director Claude Lelouch, Men, women: a user manual (1996); played the role of a rebellious psychiatric hospital patient in a Parisian production of Flight over a cuckoo’s nest; animation of radio and television programs; and recorded a duet with hip-hop artist Doc Gyneco.

For more than two decades, he was also involved in lawsuits related to the sale of Adidas. He had used nearly $ 400 million in loans to acquire a controlling stake in the company in 1990, calling it “the deal of my life.” But he sold the company less than three years later in a deal involving state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais, apparently in dire financial straits and trying to focus on his political career.

Alleging that the case had been mismanaged, he sued Credit Lyonnais, accusing the company of undervaluing Adidas and deceiving him in the sale. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who went on to head the International Monetary Fund, referred the case to arbitration and approved a settlement in 2008, with Tapie receiving 404 million euros.

Critics said the case should have gone through the normal court system instead of arbitration, and alleged that Tapie received favorable treatment because he supported Lagarde boss Nicolas Sarkozy during the The 2007 presidential election. Tapie denied the allegations and continued to fight for compensation after a French court ruled in 2015 that he was ultimately not entitled to payment.

Tapie (third from left) in the 1990 European Cup semi-final second leg in Lisbon, where his Marseille side were eliminated by Benfica


Authorities were still investigating the settlement in recent years. Lagarde was convicted of negligence – she denied committing any wrongdoing and was neither convicted nor fined – and Tapie was acquitted of defrauding the state in 2019. Prosecutors appealed against this decision, which led to a new trial which began in May, with Tapie already being seriously ill. The verdict had not yet been rendered upon his death.

Tapie previously said he remains haunted by his decision to sell Adidas in the first place. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but it was the biggest,” he told his biographer, according to the Financial Time. “Sell one of the world’s best-known sports brands for a brief stint as minister.”

The eldest of two sons, he was born in Paris on January 26, 1943 and grew up in the northeastern suburb of Le Bourget. Her father was forced to work for the German occupation forces and her mother was a nurse’s aide and housewife.

Tapie studied engineering and, after completing his military service, won a singing competition at age 21, which prompted him to pursue a career as a pop star under the name Bernard Tapy. In 1966, RCA released its version of The ballad of green berets, describing him in the sleeve notes as “a sporty, handsome child of the people with a smile that has all the cheeky charm of a kid from the back streets of Paris ”.

But he sold relatively few albums and also had little racing success, driving a Formula 3 until he was hospitalized in a crash, according to The world. Turning to business, he sold televisions in Paris and worked as a consultant, making his first major acquisition in the mid-1970s, when he used a single franc to buy back the debt of a printing house that had been occupied by its workers. .

Tapie worked out a repayment schedule with the bank and made partial ownership arrangements with workers, rejuvenating the company’s finances before buying 40 companies between 1977 and 1989, according to The independent. For much of that decade he also appeared on television, most notably as the host of Ambitions, in which he helped people start their own businesses.

He had two children from his first marriage, with Michèle Layec, which ended in divorce. He also had two children from his second marriage, with Dominique Mialet-Damianos. He and his wife were assaulted in April in a burglary at their home in Combs-la-Ville, near Paris, where authorities said four men beat them, tied them with electrical cords and stole watches and jewelry.

Complete information on the survivors was not immediately available.

Tapie liked to say that “strange things happen in football” – a maxim that received further evidence after the match-fixing scandal was exposed in 1993. After one of his alibis collapsed at trial, he said he had “lied in good faith,” prompting the judge to say, “You could have this sentence studied in a philosophy textbook.”

The lawsuit left him with a reputation as a fabulist, although Tapie insisted he was telling the truth, or something. “I’m not lying”, he told the French daily Release. “When I speak, I believe it’s true. A week later, he may not be anymore.

Bernard Tapie, businessman, born January 26, 1943, died October 3, 2021

© The Washington Post


Comments are closed.