French business mogul and former politician Bernard Tapie, whose larger-than-life career was marked by a series of legal problems, has died at the age of 78 after a four-year battle with cancer, his family announced Sunday.
“Dominique Tapie and her family have the immense sadness to announce the death of her husband and her father, Bernard Tapie, this Sunday,” they said in a statement to the Marseille newspaper La Provence, in which Tapie was the majority shareholder.
Tapie, whose business interests included a stake in the sportswear company Adidas, suffered from stomach cancer.
He was also a former president of the Olympique de Marseille football club, which led to the Champions League title in 1993. He was later sent to prison for corruption in a match-fixing scandal in the French first division.
“Olympique de Marseille learned with deep sadness of the passing of Bernard Tapie. He will leave a great void in the hearts of the people of Marseille and will forever remain a legend of the club,” the club said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady Brigitte issued a statement calling the colorful Tapie a “golden legend” that was nevertheless beset by the many “shadows” of its legal sagas. “The man who had enough fighting spirit to move mountains and topple the moon never laid down his arms, fighting cancer until its last moments,” the statement said, adding that Tapie’s brand of “ambition, energy and enthusiasm” has inspired generations of French “.
Prime Minister Jean Castex also paid tribute to Tapie, who had been a government minister in the 1990s, and described him as a “fighter.”
One of his sons, Stéphane Tapie, marked his death with an Instagram post that read: “Goodbye, my Phoenix.”
“He left in peace, surrounded by his wife, his children and grandchildren, who were next to his bed,” the statement said, adding that he wishes to be buried in Marseille, “the city of his heart.”
Tapie was born in Paris in 1943, the son of a plumber, and emerged from a poor childhood in the suburbs to become one of the richest men in France. He also entered politics, becoming minister for urban affairs in the socialist government of François Mitterrand in the 1990s and later a deputy in the French and European parliaments.
Tapie began selling televisions during the day in the working-class Belleville neighborhood of Paris while trying his luck as a singer at night and was also, briefly, a racing driver. But he soon abandoned these early searches and amassed a small empire in his 30s by taking over bankrupt companies, picking up 50 in a few years, and reselling them by the millions.
The permanently tanned mogul flaunted his newfound wealth, buying a grand house in Paris and a series of mansions on the French Riviera, as well as a 72-meter (236-foot) yacht.
“If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s make dough,” he once boasted.
But his empire collapsed spectacularly in the late 1990s, beginning with the soccer match-fixing trial that led to him serving time in jail.
After a series of scandals and setbacks, he was forced to admit in 2015 that “I am broke. I have nothing.”
He faced legal proceedings over his 1990 purchase of the German sports brand Adidas, which he was forced to sell a few years later to the state bank Crédit Lyonnais. In 2017, he was ordered to return a state payment of € 404 million that he received for the sale. He was later cleared of fraud in the case and a panel found that he himself had been the victim of fraud because Credit Lyonnais underestimated Addidas at the time of the sale.
The case shocked France and was clouded by accusations that the panel that acquitted him had been biased in his favor amid questions about why the dispute was resolved through arbitration rather than in court.
Christine Lagarde, who was finance minister at the time, decided not to appeal the ruling, a decision for which she was later found guilty of negligence by a court ruling on ministerial misconduct cases.
Lagarde’s handling of the case raised suspicions that his former boss Nicolas Sarkozy, whom Tapie had endorsed for the presidency in 2007, had a favorable disposition toward the businessman, accusations Sarkozy has vehemently denied.
Prosecutors eventually appealed and a new case was opened against Tapie. A court found him guilty of fraud over the arbitration agreement with the bank and an appeals court was due to issue its ruling on Wednesday.