Scandal-ridden French tycoon Bernard Tapie dies aged 78

Bernard Tapie, the businessman, actor, former politician and one-time president of Olympique de Marseille football club, whose larger-than-life career and recurring legal problems made him one of France’s best-known personalities, has died aged 78.

Tapie, who led Marseille to the Champions League title in 1993 and whose business interests also included a major stake in the German sportswear brand Adidas acquired in 1990, had been suffering from stomach cancer for nearly five years.

“Dominique Tapie and his family have the immense sadness to announce the death of her husband and their father, Bernard Tapie, this Sunday,” his family said in a statement to La Provence newspaper, in which Tapie held a majority stake.

“He left peacefully, surrounded by his wife, his children and grandchildren, who were at his bedside,” the statement continued, adding that Tapie wished to be buried in Marseille, “the city of his heart”.

Emmanuel Macron expressed his condolences, saying he and his wife, Brigitte, were “touched by the news of the death of Bernard Tapie, whose ambition, energy and enthusiasm were a source of inspiration for generations of French people”.

The president said Tapie had “a combativeness that could move mountains and take down the moon … He never gave up.” A huge sports fan, Tapie also owned a cycling team that, anchored by Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond, twice won the Tour de France.

“I spoke with him by phone early this year. He said, ‘I’m hanging on. You have to fight, you have to believe’,” Hinault told Agence-France Presse on Sunday. “There are people who win and people who lose. He was among the former.”

Olympique de Marseille, where Tapie was president from 1986-94, said it had learned “with deep sadness of the passing of Bernard Tapie. He will leave a great void in the hearts of the Marseillais and will forever remain in the legend of the club.”

He guided OM to five successive French league triumphs and the 1-0 Champions League victory over AC Milan, the only time a French club has won the trophy, but was later sent to prison for corruption in a first division match-fixing scandal.

Born the son of a plumber in a rough neighbourhood of Paris in 1943, Tapie become one of France’s most successful and high-profile businessmen, buying and reviving dozens of failing companies and revelling in his wealth with American-style flair.

He also sang, releasing several pop records in the late 1960s along with a 1985 number called Reussir Sa Vie, or Make a Success of your Life, and acted, taking on roles including a police inspector in the popular TV show Commissaire Valence and a part in a Claude Lelouch movie, and dabbled in politics.

Tapie grabbed national attention in a ferocious debate with the then leader of the far-right Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1989, and was elected an MP that year, eventually serving two stints as urban affairs minister in the cabinet of Socialist president François Mitterrand in the early 1990s.

“When you’ve won the Tour de France, the Champions League, you’ve been minister, singer, actor … what have I not done? I can’t say I haven’t been spoiled rotten by life,” he told Le Monde in an interview in 2017.

But his success started unravelling in the mid-1990s, when business woes and judicial investigations began piling up. In 1993, he sold Adidas in what became the start of the longest and most complex of the judicial sagas in which he was involved.

The Adidas controversy – he would later call it the biggest of all the “stupid mistakes” in his career – dragged on for 20 years after he was forced to sell the company to the state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais.

Initially victorious in his claim that he was cheated over the sale price, Tapie was awarded €404m in 2008. But the payout sparked claims the ruling was rigged in his favour because it was approved by Christine Lagarde, finance minister in the government of the then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, a longtime Tapie ally.

A court later found Tapie guilty of fraud and ordered him to repay the money, a decision he appealed against and on which a court is due to issue its ruling this week. Lagarde, now president of the European Central Bank, was found guilty of negligence in 2016.

AFP and Reuters contributed to this report

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