A bit of a technical item coming up, that involves legal intricacies. Read the full piece for all the information or just skip to the summary below if you’re in a hurry or not to excited by legal details.
Yesterday brought news of a French trial to prosecute several people for doping in the 2007 Tour de France collapsing. Now you might remember Vinkourov got caught blood doping during the race and was subsequently banned and that the whole Astana team quit the race in shame. In time the team had a clear out and management changed, with Marc Biver being replaced by Johan Bruyneel. But that’s a sporting matter, the trial in question was more serious, a criminal matter.
I was disappointed to see the case dismissed, if the athletes got banned, nobody else involved was punished or even named. A proper trial would have made big efforts to get at the source of the blood doping and illegal smuggling of banned substances, both criminal matters in France. Put simply it was a chance to nail the real criminals after only the riders were busted.
Things ground to a halt partly thanks to paperwork and most of the media is just reporting that the French judge asked for paperwork and the UCI then replied it wanted a particular formal request before co-operating. In effect both sides saying they tried… but nothing happened.
Only it’s worth explaining a little more. Yesterday the public prosecutor for Pau, Jean-Christophe Muller announced that Judge Céline Pages-Couderc said she felt no option but to clear all involved in the case given the lack of evidence.
Judge Pages-Couderc requested the data on blood samples from the UCI but the UCI said it wanted a particular form of international request called a commission rogatoire internationale. A CRI is a particular procedure whereby one judicial authority in Europe can make a request to foreign judicial authority. Typically one police forces might contact another police force, bypassing the older method involving diplomatic channels, foreign ministries and more. Essentially it’s used for cross-border investigations and involves one state requesting the co-operation of another state.
Only the UCI, as powerful as it might be, is not a state. The French judge could not apply the CRI because that would only apply to the likes of the Swiss police and they do not hold any of the medical data that the judge was after. In other words the UCI seems to have asked for the impossible. If you’re really interested, look up article the 1998 Lugano Convention and see this French legal guide.
I don’t know if this was simple bungling by the UCI, confusion causing it to make excessive demands and effectively insisting on the impossible. It could be that the UCI was deliberately trying to thwart the investigation. Either way there’s no evidence, simply we’ve got a public prosecutor expressing frustration with the UCI and the governing body saying it was ready to help.
It’s very unsatisfying when the pursuit of the truth is blocked by paperwork and delays. The wheels of French justice might turn slowly, after all things happened almost a full four years ago. But in asking for the CRI the UCI seems to have jammed on the handbrake. The French authorities were asking for the UCI’s help and didn’t receive it, the UCI said it wanted a more formal request delivered via the Swiss police or other local authorities.
It’s important to remember there were more than two parties on trial, the UCI was simply supposed to provide some assistance and it wasn’t in the dock. So the case has ended not just because of a lack of co-operation from Aigle but presumably because other avenues have proved a dead end, but note the public prosecutor singled out the UCI. For an organisation worried about its public image, this is another blow.
Seen to the end this case would not have solved everything in the sport but it would have tried to shine a light on the people who lurk in the shadows. A shame things didn’t work out.