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Mar 15, 2006

Blanc's transfer under the microscope at Marseille trial

MARSEILLE, France, 15 March (Reuters) - Former French international Laurent Blanc's 1997 transfer from Barcelona to Olympique Marseille went under the microscope on the third day of the trial of the club's former officials on Wednesday.

Blanc, capped 97 times by France, joined Marseille from Barcelona in July 1997 for a transfer fee estimated at 14 million French francs (2.13 million euros - $2.56 million).

While his contract with the Primera Liga side had two years to run, Blanc was allowed to leave and was even granted a four million-franc departure bonus.

Former deputy chairman Jean-Michel Roussier, who ran Marseille from 1995 to 1999, told the court that this kind of golden handshake was quite usual.

Roussier explained that the departure bonus was made to compensate for a less favourable tax system in France as well as a predictable loss of income for the player.

'Blanc's contract ran for two more seasons,' said Marseille's main shareholder Robert Louis-Dreyfus. 'He was playing for a famous club in a championship which was much more prestigious than ours.

'He, therefore, was entitled to compensation from the selling side as a financial loss could be expected from his transfer,' Louis-Dreyfus said.

Roussier added: 'This didn't seem orthodox to me but I didn't see it as something illegal.'

Blanc, a key member of France's 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning team, spent two seasons at Marseille before he moved to Inter Milan for 18 million francs (2.74 million euros).

He then joined Manchester United in 2001 and helped them win the English Premier League title in 2003.

Robert Louis-Dreyfus, Marseille's president at the time of the transfer, is charged with misappropriation of public funds. Denying any wrongdoing, Louis-Dreyfus said on Wednesday he was surprised that no players were expected to attend the trial or were summoned as witnesses.

'The matter is not to determine if Laurent Blanc should face this court but it is to establish if it is legitimate that you are here today,' the judge replied.

The court also scrutinised the arrival at Marseille of Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli from Middlesbrough in a £5.3 million ($9.25 million) transfer in Sept. 1997.

The court suspected that a departure bonus estimated at between 15 and 25 percent of the global fee was handed back to the player.

Italian businessman Licio D'Onofrio was questioned about a 2.5 million-franc commission he paid to Ravanelli's agent Alessandro Moggi.

'Tottenham and Blackburn expressed their interest in signing (Ravanelli) and nothing was possible without Moggi,' D'Onofrio said.

'I trusted (Moggi). There was no need to make a formal written contract. I gave him 2.5 million francs in cash in several payments,' he said.

The court considered the explanation dubious and said that the money which was granted to Moggi was simply paid to help close the deal with Marseille.

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