French champions 'tried to fix football match': Olympique Marseille player charged with bribing opponent

Click to follow
AN EXAMINING magistrate has charged two football players and the wife of one for trying to fix a match last month between Olympique Marseille (OM), who later took the French league championship, and the northern team of Valenciennes.

A fourth person investigators wished to question, Jean-Pierre Bernes, the OM managing director, was meanwhile taken to hospital at the weekend with heart problems. This meant he could not appear before the magistrate. Mr Bernes is the second-in-command to Bernard Tapie, the club's president, a minister in the last Socialist government and a well-known entrepreneur.

At stake are the future of OM - if the allegations are proven the team could be relegated to the second division for a season - and the political fortunes of Mr Tapie, who is believed to have ambitions to become Marseille's mayor at the next municipal elections in 1995. As an onset of paranoia grabbed the port over the weekend, however, it looked as though his club's troubles could benefit Mr Tapie. The affair adds to an already sorry image of the sport in France for financial malpractice and mismanagement.

Jean-Jacques Eydelie, a Marseille player, was arrested and charged with active corruption for allegedly handing 250,000 francs (pounds 29,500) to Christophe Robert of Valenciennes. Robert was charged with passive corruption while his wife, Marie-Christine, alleged to have collected the cash, was charged with complicity. Eydelie, named by Robert, had gone to Valenciennes on Saturday of his own accord to explain himself and was immediately detained.

According to an account by Jacques Glassmann, another player for Valenciennes, Eydelie had called three members of the northern team in a hotel just before the league match on 20 May and then passed the telephone to Mr Bernes who offered them a bribe to fix the match.

Mr Tapie, in a television interview, pointed out that OM - who beat Valenciennes 1-0 after Robert was taken off the field injured, an incident which has since fuelled charges that he was faking - were four points ahead in the league table and virtually unbeatable. The team took the European Cup against Milan the following week and clinched the league title by beating Paris St Germain on 29 May. Marseille made a counter-charge: that Valenciennes, who were relegated, approached Olympique to negotiate a draw to keep them in the first division.

The latest trouble was not Mr Tapie's first with OM. A prosecutor recommended two years ago that he be charged in a case concerning under-the-table payments to players. As he entered the Socialist government as Minister for Towns, the recommendation was not followed up.

In Marseille this weekend, the Valenciennes scandal seemed paradoxically to bolster Mr Tapie's popularity. Residents interviewed on French television repeatedly and vociferously claimed that it was part of a concerted campaign to denigrate Marseille as a city and Mr Tapie as a politician.