New French sport minister shrugs off tax allegation

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PARIS, Oct 21 (Reuters) Outgoing French rugby coach Bernard Laporte said he was unworried by allegations of tax irregularities and was looking forward to starting work as a government minister tomorrow.

''I have a clear conscience and there is no investigation,'' he told the weekly Journal du Dimanche in an interview published today.

''There is a just a company that is being inspected as happens all the time,'' he said.

The magazine L'Equipe reported that Laporte faced investigation by French tax authorities for alleged tax evasion and various irregularities regarding businesses he is involved in.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the French coach into the government as Youth and Sports minister before the rugby World Cup, has already said that he should be presumed innocent and that the appointment will go ahead.

The tax controversy, and the disappointing fourth place achieved by France in the competition, has taken some of the shine off an appointment that would have been a public relations coup had Laporte won the World Cup for France as he had hoped.

But he said he was unconcerned by the allegations and was looking forward to his new post.

''Do you think I would have accepted this post if I had had the slightest doubt?'' he said. ''In any case, I rule out any judicial action. I am not worried at all.'' REUTERS GL RAI2338

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