February 2, 2016 / 2:27 PM / 2 years ago

Tycoon Tapie shapes up as Trump of French presidentials

4 Min Read

French businessman Bernard Tapie attends a news conference for the launching of his web TV at the headquarters of the French daily newspaper 'La Provence' in Marseille, March 12, 2014.Jean-Paul Pelissier

PARIS (Reuters) - Bernard Tapie is considering a run for French president next year, a potentially far-reaching move even if it may not create quite the fuss that fellow tycoon Donald Trump has generated in the U.S. presidential primaries.

The former owner of Olympique de Marseille football club and the Adidas sports brand, who was jailed briefly for soccer match fixing in 1997, has even less chance than Trump of winning in the end. But his name on the ballot could help decide who does.

"Maybe I'll get 5 or 6 percent, and in this case, this would determine the outcome of the presidential election," Tapie told the Financial Times in an interview on Tuesday. It was his second public comment on the subject in a matter of weeks.

France's 2017 presidential election is shaping up to be a tight race between Socialist President Francois Hollande, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the mainstream conservative Republicans party.

The outlook has been clouded by the rising popularity of former prime minister Alain Juppe as a potential rival to Sarkozy. There are also signs Hollande is losing a popularity spike he enjoyed after the November attacks in Paris.

In France's two-round presidential voting, the two highest scorers in the first round fight it out in a run-off. Most polls suggest Le Pen would win the first round but lose the second.

That makes the first-round battle for second place crucial. Here, Tapie could play a spoiler role by drawing away votes from one of the other main players, thus clearing a path for the remaining lucky one.

Exactly what the impact would be is hard to judge because Tapie, who has also dabbled in acting, singing and hosting a television show, has been close to both mainstream political sides.

Now 73, he served briefly as minister for urban affairs in a Socialist government in 1992-1993 before legal troubles cut short his political career. Later on, he crossed the political divide to back Sarkozy.

Tapie made the headlines again last year when he lost a long-running legal battle over the disputed 1993 sale of his Adidas empire, and was told to repay over 400 million euros ($436 million) of government compensation he had won.

International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, who was French finance minister at the time of the payment in 2008, will face trial for negligence for her role in compensating him.

France's best-selling newspaper, Ouest France, made the Tapie-Trump connection last month in an article on the outspoken American, saying he has the "populist patter of a Tapie".

In December, Trump told France 2 television he was giving himself until the end of January to decide whether to stand.

According to an Ifop opinion poll that month, Le Pen would come out on top in the first round of voting with 27 percent, followed by Hollande with 22 percent and Sarkozy a close third with 21 percent. None has confirmed candidacy.

Like U.S. presidential hopeful Trump, a leading U.S. Republican contender, Tapie made a fortune in the 1980s and has seen it go up and down since then.

Tapie has said the latest court judgment against him has left him penniless.

Reporting by Andrew Callus and Laurence Frost; Editing by James Regan and Tom Heneghan

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