World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte has been remanded in police custody after appearing for an interview with France's anti-fraud squad over his links to Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad, who is also in custody.
Three other men were also placed in custody this morning at the headquarters of the French financial conduct authority, according to reports in the French media: Serge Simon, vice-president of the Frech Rugby Union (FFR); Nicolas Hourquet, manager of international relations at the union; and Claude Atcher, the director general for the organising committee of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which is due to be held in France. Their involvement is unclear.
The fraud investigation concerns why the FFR's appeals committee reduced a sanction against Montpellier, owned by businessman Altrad, who owns the Altrad Group, the current sponsors of the France national team.
Montpellier had been accused of irregularities throughout the 2018-19 campaign, specifically regarding the salary cap, and suspicions were raised among their Top 14 rivals when it was announced that they had come to an "amicable" settlement with the authorities.
Reports in the French media had suggested that money was paid to former centre Johan Goosen, among others, via an auxiliary company in South Africa, so that only a small portion of the wages would contribute towards the cap. The former France and Toulon coach was accused of favouritism after it emerged that a company he owns had signed an image rights contract with the Altrad Group in early 2017.
He eventually pulled out of the €150,000 (£137,969) deal but the case was investigated by the French Sports Ministry before being passed to the public prosecutor.
Contacted by AFP on Monday, neither Laporte nor the federation wished to make any comment.
Laporte's scheduled appearance before the fraud squad comes just two weeks before elections for the federation presidency, in which Laporte, who was the French Secretary of State for Sports from 2007-09, will run against main rival Florian Grill.
Laporte was first elected to the top federation post in 2016, and victory in the October 3 elections would make him the boss of French rugby when the country hosts the World Cup in 2023.