Marseille soccer ex-boss in crosshairs of French underworld investigation

Marseille soccer ex-boss in crosshairs of French underworld investigation
By Reuters

17/09/2015 at 12:05Updated 17/09/2015 at 12:12

An inquiry into organised crime and the top soccer club in the French city of Marseille expanded on Thursday, when magistrates put the club's former president under investigation on suspicion of embezzlement.

After an inquiry that began with police raids at Olympique de Marseille's grounds in 2013, ex-president Jean-Claude Dassier was formally put under investigation for suspected embezzlement, after six hours of questioning on Wednesday, an official in the French judiciary confirmed.

The judicial investigation is focusing on more than a dozen player transfer deals and possible kickback payments to criminal gangs. It has done little for the image of Marseille, a city still trying to shake off the bandit-country reputation captured in the movie "The French Connection" in the early 1970s.

Neither Dassier, the club's president from 2009 to 2011, nor his lawyers have commented on the case, and they did not return calls from Reuters on Thursday. In France's legal system, being placed under formal investigation often leads to a trial, but not automatically.

The inquiry, led by magistrate Guillaume Cotelle, has involved questioning of about 20 people and centres on some 14 financial deals. They include the 2010 transfer of France international Andre-Pierre Gignac from Toulouse to Olympique Marseille for an estimated 20 million euros ($22.7 million).

Cotelle and the organised crime division of the Marseille judiciary suspect that underworld figures in the city siphoned off kickbacks connected to transfer deals at Marseille, currently seventh in French soccer's Ligue 1 premier division.

The latest inquiry is just one of myriad affairs that have plagued the club. Bernard Tapie, a multi-millionaire businessman who has spent much of his life fighting court battles to defend his riches, did jail time in the 1990s for his role in a 1993 match-fixing scandal when he was in charge of the club.

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