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How an unknown Montrealer saved France's ailing rugby club

Job Ariste's private foundation is in the French media spotlight after agreeing to invest $17-million in the embattled Stade Francais rugby club.

He's barely known at home, a Haitian-born Montreal deacon who is out to support the world's poorest kids. He works out of a low-end business building, upstairs from a discount computer store and a spaghetti restaurant with scantily-clad waitresses.

But this week, 36-year-old Job Ariste became the unexpected saviour of one of France's most venerable sports teams. The private foundation over which he presides has been thrust into the French media spotlight after agreeing to invest $17-million in the embattled Stade Français rugby club.

"Paris has been rescued," one headline on a French rugby website proclaimed.

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How Mr. Ariste, a little-known Montreal businessman, came to make such a splash in the French sports scene has puzzled many.

He runs a phone company that was started three years ago with a $10,000 government subsidy and other start-up money. His private foundation, FACEM, the French abbreviation for Foundation to Improve the Conditions of Children in the World, has "many projects," mainly in Africa, he says, including a $200-million project for social housing and schools in Nigeria, homes in Cameroon and a TV station for youth in the Ivory Coast.

He refuses to name investors to the private foundation - the books are not public.

"They are rich individuals - and there are many of them. I can't give you the names right now," Mr. Ariste said.

"I have to keep things confidential. We have partners all over - mainly in the U.S., in Europe, in Asia and some in South Africa."

On the Stade Français website, the club defended FACEM's credibility by noting that it was "a United Nations-approved foundation."

In fact, FACEM participates in the UN Global Compact, an initiative encouraging businesses to follow ethical principles. However, it is a voluntary commitment and foundations aren't required to report whether they heeded their pledge.

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To invest in the team, FACEM partnered with one of French rugby's more colourful, controversial men, Bernard Laporte, a former national coach and former junior sports minister for President Nicolas Sarkozy whose 2007 cabinet appointment came amid press reports that he was being investigated for fiscal irregularities.

Mr. Laporte, who once coached Stade Français, wanted to help the club, which faced relegation from the top French professional league unless it erased its deficit.

In a press conference this week, Mr. Laporte said he heard of FACEM through a friend, a financial adviser named Stéphane Benhamou. "They're investing into a very celebrated club. Rugby has values that they like a lot even though they are not familiar with it … And I'm sure they're looking for networking opportunities to improve their business."

FACEM owns half the stake in SAS Rugby Développements, a joint stock company incorporated last month by Mr. Laporte to invest in the team.

"The money is there," Mr. Ariste said. "They have received everything they need to save the team."

The partners believe that the club will eventually go back in the black and the profits will benefit FACEM's projects, he said.

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Mr. Ariste said he is an entrepreneur who got started in gold and diamond trading in Africa but "I have always had the passion to help people. Money, wealth doesn't mean anything for me."

According to his corporate filings, Mr. Ariste has one to five employees. Three years ago, to start Voxcitel, his phone company, he needed a $10,000 subsidy for start-up businesses and also turned to a Quebec fund that gave loans of up to $25,000 to black businesses.

His foundation FACEM operates out of the same office as his company, in a building with a large "For rent" sign outside. It is a spartan, near-empty space, off a highway service road in the north end of Montreal, with no signage or receptionist.

Mr. Ariste is also a Seventh-day Adventist deacon, according to a 2008 Quebec labour grievance ruling.

The case was triggered after a nursing home orderly was fired for hitting a patient. The orderly alleged that a female co-worker, with whom he once had an affair, denounced him because of a grudge.

Mr. Ariste appeared as a witness and testified that the female co-worker was a member of his congregation. As a deacon, he advised her to end her relationship with the orderly because the church doesn't approve of extra-marital affairs.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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