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Bernard Tapie, the French businessman who came out of nothing to reach the heights of political and sporting power despite the scandal, died of cancer at the age of 78.
With a knack for self-promotion and no little charm, Tapie has become a symbol of the cash years (the money years) in the 1980s, France ruled by socialists as he made his fortune buying bankrupt companies in industries ranging from batteries to scales.
But Tapie was never a boring CEO in costume, and he stood out in the often-conservative French business elite. With his characteristic mane of wavy hair and a deep tan, he seemed to live several lives – all colored – earning huge sums of money to lose her, winning an elected post and becoming a TV presenter and pop crooner.
His biggest business move – buying sportswear manufacturer Adidas – in the 1990s ended as his biggest nightmare, leading to a lengthy legal battle he still waged until his death. The legal setbacks, which opposed him to the State and the French banking establishment, have survived him: an appeal judgment is expected on October 6.
As he rose in business in the 1980s, Tapie caught the attention of then-socialist president Francois Mitterrand, who bolstered his political career by helping him win a seat in parliament for Marseille. His fearless elimination of far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen in a televised debate in 1989 impressed Mitterrand, who later appointed him as 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 bitterly regretted to his biographer. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this was the biggest,” he said. “Sell one of the world’s best-known sports brands for a brief stint as minister.”
Although he grew up in a working-class family in Paris, Marseille became the spiritual home of Tapie and where his most glorious and lowest moments took place. He gained adulation as the owner of Olympique de Marseille when he won five titles and the top prize in European football in 1993, a first for a French club. Opprobrium followed suit, however, when he was convicted in 1995 on match-fixing charges and served six months in prison after losing his appeals.
Soon after, he filed for bankruptcy and was convicted in separate cases of corruption and tax evasion.
When Tapie was released from prison in 1997, he told journalist Airy Routier that he would get revenge just like the main character in the Alexandre Dumas film. the count of Monte Cristo. “I am 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 arbitration award worth 403 million euros which he won in 2008 following the sale of his stake in Adidas.
This saga began when he sued the public bank Crédit Lyonnais, his former lender, alleging that the bank had sold Adidas at a depressed price. Tapie ended up fighting the French state after the failure of Crédit Lyonnais.
The case turned into a political scandal after it was alleged that President Nicolas Sarkozy and his allies had pushed for a settlement instead of continuing the trial. Since the payment to Tapie came from public coffers, this sparked outrage in some quarters and questions as to whether he had political connections.
The Lurking Affair, as it was called in the press, has cast a shadow over the French political and economic elite: Christine Lagarde, now head of the European Central Bank, has been faced with questions about her actions as Minister of Finance of France at the time, just like her then Chief of Staff, Stéphane Richard, now Chief Executive Officer of the Orange telecoms group.
The appeal process is in progress.
As the business dragged on, Tapie returned to his conspicuous drinking habits. He splashed on a 76-meter yacht he named Be reborn, a private jet and buys the Marseille newspaper Provence.
In 2015, a court ordered Tapie to return the Credit Lyonnais settlement money, but by mid-2021 he still hadn’t done so amid lawsuits.
Prosecutors also alleged that Tapie and others cheated to get the settlement. He was tried with five co-defendants and acquitted in 2019. Prosecutors appealed against this decision and a new trial was held in May 2021.
Weakened by a years-long battle with cancer, a white-haired, slim-as-a-rail Tapie once appeared in court before his family said he was too frail to attend.
Tapie made public in 2017 his diagnosis of stomach and esophageal cancer by telling a well-known supporter of Olympique de Marseille, who announced it on social networks. The next day, supporters of the Stade Vélodrome of OM chanted his name and unfurled banners: “Courage! We are with you boss.
Since then, Tapie had spoken about his battle with the disease and advocated on behalf of others with the disease. “Everyone must find the motivation for their fight,” he said in an interview with broadcaster TF1 in April this year. “Science is moving incredibly fast, so someone with supposedly fatal cancer can still have hope now.”
In the same interview, he said there were still things he wanted to accomplish and considered staring in a movie for his old friend, director Claude Lelouch. “He wants to make one last movie with me and I’m crazy about it!”
Tapie is survived by four children and his wife of 34 years, Dominique Tapie.