Bernard Tapie, French Businessman and Politician, Dies at 78
(Bloomberg) -- Bernard Tapie, the businessman, European Cup-winning soccer club president, politician and actor who fought against France’s far right and became embroiled in lengthy legal battles, has died. He was 78.
Tapie died Sunday following a years-long fight with cancer, his family said in a statement to La Provence newspaper. He had earlier expressed his wish to be buried in Marseille.
President Emmanuel Macron was one of many to pay tribute to Tapie.
“Praised to the skies by some, dragged through the mud by others, he was as unsettling as he was fascinating, because he straddled every obstacle on his path to success,” Macron said in a statement.
Legal struggles that would drag on decades and ensnare France’s political establishment began in 1990, when Tapie, at the time a soccer club owner, bought the sports apparel giant Adidas for about 1.6 billion francs. Two years later, he couldn’t pay the interest on the loan from Credit Lyonnais used to finance the purchase and the bank subsequently converted Tapie’s debt into equity in Adidas. The businessman claimed he was defrauded when the lender then sold Adidas to businessman Robert-Louis Dreyfus. Tapie went bankrupt in November 1994.
“This golden legend mixed with the shadows of a legal chronicle: lost trials, hefty convictions -- decisions he would challenge all his life,” Macron said in his statement.
After his bankruptcy, barred from starting a new business, Tapie turned his hand to acting, appearing in the 1996 film “Hommes, femmes, mode’emploi” (Men, Women: A Handbook). He was the subject of a 2001 documentary, “Who is Bernard Tapie?”
The dispute over Adidas also led to Christine Lagarde, now president of the European Central Bank, being convicted of negligence by a Paris court in 2016. She avoided a fine or prison time for her handling of the case while finance minister under then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Judges found that Lagarde should have challenged an arbitration award of 285 million euros ($330 million) made to Tapie, which was subsequently cut to zero.
Bernard Tapie was born on Jan. 26, 1943, to Jean and Raymonde Tapie in the Le Bourget suburb to the north of Paris. His father, conscripted by the occupying Nazis for compulsory labor, worked after the war as a machine operator in a refrigerator factory. His mother was a nurse.
The young Tapie tried his hand at pop singing and car racing before building his fortune in the 1980s buying up distressed companies for resale.
He purchased the Olympique de Marseille soccer club in 1986. As president, Tapie bought players like Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Chris Waddle to secure the first European Cup won by a French team, in 1993. He later spent eight months in prison for rigging a domestic French match just before the European final. The club was punished with relegation to the second division.
Backed by President Francois Mitterrand, Tapie won a seat in Marseille in the legislative election of 1988. His willingness to confront National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in a series of televised debates, at a time when other, more established politicians refused to do so, was credited with hampering Le Pen’s political ambitions.
Le Pen’s daughter Marine Le Pen, a 2022 presidential candidate with the Rassemblement National, cancelled a scheduled television appearance on Sunday, citing Tapie’s death.
Mitterrand was impressed enough to make Tapie minister for urban affairs in 1992. Yet Tapie never became part of the Socialist establishment, and later backed Sarkozy, a conservative.
“The first image that comes to mind, is one of a fighter, for his ideas and his beliefs. He was always very committed against the far right but above all for his good causes, his club, his town, his business too,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said in comments to the media.
In 1970 Tapie left his first wife, Michele Layec, with whom he had two children, Nathalie and Stephane. He married to Dominique Mialet-Damianos, his former secretary, in 1987, and had two more children, Sophie and Laurent.
Tapie announced in September 2017 that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“Bernard Tapie lived to the end with his passion intact, an unshakable energy, and a great empathy for people,” Sarkozy said on Twitter. “Throughout his cruel illness, he gave everyone a lesson in courage and dignity.”
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