Gilles Beyer
In this file photo taken on January 30, 1999, then French figure-skating team coach Gilles Beyer speaks at a press conference at The European Figure Skating Championships in Prague. Image Credit: AFP

PARIS: Gilles Beyer, the former coach at the centre of a sexual assault scandal that convulsed French figure skating, has died, his lawyer said Saturday.

Thibault de Montbrial said Beyer, who was 66, had been "very ill".

In early 2020, former skater Sarah Abitbol wrote a book in which she accused Beyer of rape and repeated sexual assaults in the early 1990s, when she was aged between 15 and 17.

Abitbol, a former world bronze medallist in pairs skating, did not file a complaint because of the statute of limitations.

In the closed world of figure skating, Abitbol's book, "Un si long silence" (Such a long silence), encouraged a flood of revelations from skaters who levelled accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment or blackmail against Beyer and other coaches or former coaches.

After three skaters accused Beyer of later assaults, he was placed under investigation for "sexual assault by a person in authority and sexual harassment by a person in authority".

His death leads to the closure of the investigation, said his lawyer.

"I am in shock," Abitbol told French magazine L'Obs. "He departs before being judged. I would have liked there to be a trial."

Beyer's lawyer also said he wished there could have been a trial.

"Many false things have been said and written about him and I would have liked very much that he had the opportunity to express himself publicly, some would have been surprised," said de Montbrial.

In February 2020, the scandal brought the downfall of Didier Gailhaguet, the president of the French Federation of Ice Sports (FFSG) for more than 20 years over two spells. He was forced to resign, after a long arm wrestle with then Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu.

An investigation then highlighted suspicions against 21 FFSG coaches, including 12 who were implicated in "sexual harassment or assault."