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Soccer-Marseille owner denies role in transfer scandal

MARSEILLE, France, June 18 (Reuters) - The owner of Olympique Marseille on Monday denied misusing club funds in a fraud scandal during the late 1990s as he sought to clear his name on appeal.

Robert-Louis Dreyfus, who holds a majority stake in the club, received a suspended three-year prison sentence last year after being found guilty of involvement in the scandal linked to player transfers in the late 1990s.

Former coach Rolland Courbis was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to serve an additional year from a previous suspended sentence, and both men were fined 375,000 euros ($502,600) each.

“As president of OM, I obviously take responsibility for these facts, but I do not recognise misappropriating company funds,” Dreyfus told the appeal trial, which opened on Monday.

Dreyfus and nine of the 12 other people originally convicted appeared in court, including Courbis.

Prosecutors at the original trial said some 22 million euros were illegally diverted from club funds as part of the transfer of 15 players between 1997 and 1999 -- including Laurent Blanc and Christophe Dugarry of France’s 1998 World Cup winning squad.

COMPLICATED SYSTEM

During that trial, which took place after a six-year investigation, the court heard of a complicated system of international cash transfers between several tax havens as part of a system of hidden commissions paid on player moves.

“I believe that there were only departure bonuses for Laurent Blanc and the Argentine players,” he said, referring to some lesser-known South American professionals.

The case against the men also focused on the transfers of French midfielder Claude Makelele and Italy’s Fabrizio Ravanelli.

Courbis, who was Marseille coach from 1997 to 1999, continued to deny involvement in any unlawful payments, saying he was interested only in sport.

“My job is to make sure I am a leader and to win competitions. I am not proud of being a leader in this OM dossier,” he told the appeal trial.

Courbis, who has remained at liberty pending the outcome of his appeal, currently trains second division club Montpellier-Herault.

“I took part in discussions with players about their transfer and their payment. For me, if there are differences in the changing room over these astronomical amounts, that can cause a sporting problem,” Courbis said.

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