MPs clear way for Tapie charges

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The Independent Online
THE French National Assembly voted yesterday to lift the parliamentary immunity of Bernard Tapie, the controversial entrepreneur-turned-politician, so that he could face possible criminal charges for his business affairs.

The lower house of parliament voted by 432 votes to 72 at the request of an investigating magistrate in the northern town of Bethune, who is in charge of inquiries into alleged mismanagement of Mr Tapie's Testut bathroom and kitchen scales company.

Mr Tapie, 50, the Minister for Towns in the Socialist government defeated in March's general elections, is a tough-talking politician and former chief executive of the Adidas sporting goods company. He has marked the world of French politics with the working-class bluster of the poor-boy-made-good.

Under French law, sitting parliamentarians cannot be charged during a parliamentary session. Had the examining magistrate in Bethune not made the request for Mr Tapie's immunity to be lifted, he would only have had to wait until the Christmas recess. Mr Tapie, therefore, has alleged that the magistrate's decision was political and part of a general campaign to destroy him.

Another magistrate has asked parliament to lift Mr Tapie's immunity in a more colourful affair, the alleged fixing of a soccer match between northern Valenciennes and Olympique de Marseille (OM), the first division soccer team of which Mr Tapie is president.

The suspicion there, for which a senior OM official has already been charged, is that Valenciennes players were offered bribes to fix a league match in May just before OM's Uefa Cup final against Milan. OM has since been stripped of the right to play in international competition and the affair contributed to the fall of the French Soccer Federation President, Jean Fournet-Fayard, last month.

Last week, the Constitutional Council, one of the highest instances of French law, rejected a complaint by Mr Tapie's Gaullist opponent in his suburban Marseilles constituency, who had challenged his election last March because, the Gaullist alleged, he had exceeded the legal maximum on campaign spending. Had the council found against Mr Tapie, he would have been stripped of his National Assembly deputy's mandate.

Mr Tapie told the assembly that he would accept its decision 'upright, as a man who is still walking, with an easy conscience . . . the truth will triumph'. He had earlier said he would expound on politicians and money, implying corruption among his fellows, but in the event did not do so.

Philippe Seguin, the Gaullist president of the assembly, has questioned the whole procedure of subjecting deputies to such treatment - a rare occurrence - suggesting that the law needed to be changed so that parliamentarians could face criminal investigations as normal citizens.