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Bernard Tapie, the French businessman who rose out of nowhere to increase the heights of power in politics and sport despite the scandal, has died of cancer at the age of 78.
With a gift for self-promotion and not a bit of charm, Tapie has become a symbol of the cash years (the money years) in the 1980s, by the socialist government, while earning a fortune to buy bankrupt companies in industries ranging from batteries to scales.
But Tapie was never a boring CEO in a suit, and he stood out in the often conservative French business elite. With his characteristic wavy mane of wavy hair and a deep brown complexion, he seems to lead multiple lives – all colorful – earning large sums of money only to lose it, win the elected office and become a television presenter and doll -crooner.
His biggest coup – the purchase of sports equipment manufacturer Adidas – in the 1990s ended as his biggest nightmare, leading to a long legal battle he was still fighting when he died. The legal problems that upset him against the French state and the banking system survived him: an appeal ruling is expected on October 6.
When he did business in the 1980s, Tapie caught the attention of the then socialist president François Mitterrand, who supported his political career by helping him win a seat in parliament for Marseille. His fearless removal of the far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen in a debate on television in 1989 impressed Mitterrand, who later appointed him Minister of Urban Affairs, to the shock of others in the cabinet.
When he was appointed minister, he decided to sell his stake in Adidas to mark his independence, a decision he later told his biographer he regretted. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but it was the biggest,” he said. “Sold one of the most famous sports brands in the world for a short period as a minister.”
Although he grew up in a working class family in Paris, Marseille became Tapie’s spiritual home and where his most glorious and lowest moments took place. He was worshiped as the owner of Olympique de Marseille when he won five titles and the biggest football prize in Europe in 1993, a first for a French club. Opprobrium followed, however, when he was convicted of match-fixing in 1995 and served six months in prison after losing his appeal.
Shortly afterwards, he went bankrupt and was convicted in separate cases of corruption and tax fraud.
When Tapie was released from prison in 1997, he told journalist Airy Routier that he would take revenge just like the main character in Alexandre Dumas’ The Earl of Monte Cristo. ‘I’m Edmond Dantès. I will come back and crush them all, ”Routier recalled in a 2020 documentary.
Tapie has indeed rebuilt his business interests, helped in part by a spectacular € 403 million arbitration award he won in 2008 as a result of the sale of his share in Adidas.
That saga began when he sued the then state-owned Crédit Lyonnais bank, its former lender, that the bank had sold Adidas at a reduced price. Tapie finally fought against the French state after Crédit Lyonnais failed.
The case turned into a political scandal after it was alleged that President Nicolas Sarkozy and allies called for the settlement instead of continuing the court case. As the payout to Tapie came from the public coffers, it caused outrage in some resorts and questions arose as to whether he had benefited from political commitments.
The Lurking Affair, as mentioned in the press, cast a long shadow over the French business and political elite: Christine Lagarde, now head of the European Central Bank, came across questions about her actions as then finance minister in France, just like she did then her chief of staff, Stéphane Richard, who is now CEO of the telecommunications group Orange.
The appeal process continues.
As the various cases continue, Tapie returns to his habits of conspicuous consumption. He splashes on a 76-meter yacht he mentioned Born again, bought a private jet and the Marseille newspaper Provence.
In 2015, a court ordered Tapie to return the Crédit Lyonnais settlement fee, but by mid-2021 he still had not done so amid the continuing legal challenges.
Prosecutors also allege that Tapie and others were involved in fraud to obtain the settlement. He was tried along with five co-accused and acquitted in 2019. Prosecutors appealed against the decision and a new trial took place in May 2021.
Weakened by a years-long battle with cancer, a white-headed, thin-skinned Tapie appears at an event in court before his family says he is too weak to attend.
Tapie came to light in 2017 with his diagnosis of gastrointestinal cancer by telling a well-known supporter of Olympique de Marseille, who made it known on social media. The next day, fans in the Velodrome Stadium of OM sang his name and unfolded banners that read: “Courage! We’re with your boss. ”
Since then, Tapie has talked about his battle with the disease and pleaded for other sufferers. “Every person needs to find the motivation for their fight,” he said in an interview with broadcaster TF1 in April this year. “Science is advancing incredibly fast, so anyone with a suspected cancer can still have hope.
In the same interview, he said there are still things he still wants to achieve, and he’s thinking about playing a movie for his old friend, director Claude Lelouch. “He wants to make one last movie with me, and I love it!”
Tapie is survived by four children and his wife of 34 years, Dominique Tapie.