UCI puts the brakes on the slow wheels of French justice

Astana police

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.

14 thoughts on “UCI puts the brakes on the slow wheels of French justice”

  1. This case
    Points System
    Race Radios
    Conflicts of Interest

    Soon something, somewhere will have to give because there aren’t many more groups left for the UCI to upset.

    Personally I can’t wait for the Tour of California and sadly for the sport it has nothing to do with what I consider quite a dull race. However there is little us fans can do but to pull up a chair and hope the sport doesn’t fall to pieces at our feet

  2. I generally do not get annoyed about things beyond my control, but the UCI gets to me. Is there the chance of Novitsky calling on Pat to testify when he visits the US for the ToC?

  3. The UCI, IMNSHO, is the biggest roadblock to cleaning up the sport.

    Landis’s interview with Kimmage was an eye-opener and it really did change my outlook on the root cause of the problems rampant in cycling today – and this reinforces that. The way they run this sport is absolutely ridiculous – no professionalism and not even a semblance of integrity.

  4. For an organisation worried about its public image…

    To a casual observer, it seems that the UCI either lacks any concern for its public image, or believes the riders, teams, sponsors, equipment manufacturers and fans aren’t part of “the public.”

  5. @Guadzilla
    That is what annoys me the most, they are so blatant about it, there is hardly any attempt to disguise what they are doing. Sports Organisations need to be run by people with real business experience and accountable to public scrutiny much like (some)Govt orgs, until then there is far too much cronyism and bare faced corruption.

  6. UCI bashing is a great favourite on the blogosphere, and one has to admit that they suck at defending themselves. But to me, the issue here is a bit more complicated than may seem, and I am not certain the UCI is to blame (for once!). I have no insider knowledge, but I thought it might be interesting to feed the debate with an alternative perspective.

    Protection of private data, especially of medical data, is a fundamental right. And I think it is quite reassuring that the UCI respects this fundamental right, in view of the extent of medical data it has in its possession. As much as some people may dislike Vino et al., they are human beings and as such, their rights are worthy of protection, as much as the next guy’s.

    Now, the protection of personal data is not absolute, and it can give way. But only under stict conditions. For the UCI, which is nothing more than a Swiss private law association (equivalent to an “Association Loi 1901” in France, and “A.S.B.L.” in Belgium, an “unincorporated association” in England, a “non-profit corporation” in the US) and not an international organisation, those conditions are set out in Swiss law.

    As far as we know, the UCI only received a letter from the French gendarmerie politely requesting medical information about certain riders. The UCI considers that such a request is not sufficient to allow them to wave the protection of personal data under Swiss law. The idea is most probably that they consider that the French judicial authorities do not have the competence to request information from foreign nationals abroad without going through the local competent authorities. All the UCI is requesting is that the French judicial authorities follow the proper procedure and issue a commission rogatoire internationale to the Swiss authorities (not to the UCI), which, in turn, will request the data from the UCI or coerce them into providing it.

    Whether one thinks the UCI is being overly careful with the protection of personal data of riders is probably a question of political preference. But in any event, I fail to see why the French judicial authorities cannot issue a commission rogatoire internationale to Switzerland. They seem to know how to do it when they investigate corruption cases, in order to get access to data held by banks. Why is it so complicated to do it in this doping case?

    This looks very much like an issue of a juge prioritizing case-load. I don’t think the UCI is the culprit here.

  7. I think BUSINESS experience has a lot to do with this mess. Wasn’t ol’ Heinie a big-shot with the Mars candy company? Short-term (let’s get through this scandal as quickly and easily as possible so I can continue my vacation) thinking in the extreme in so many cases. UCI failing to cooperate with the French investigation is not much different than the Spaniards refusing to turn over the Puerto evidence. They don’t care much about riders doping and never have (not that the race organizers are much different) they care about doping SCANDALS. Managing those is what concerns them…and each one seems to be handled on an individual basis….sometimes the guilty rider gets banned, other times it appears they’re slow to get around to sanctions and sometimes the seemingly guilty are held up as great examples of sportsmen (especially if they donate a large chunk of $$) whatever they think will sweep the problem under the rug the fastest. The UCI management needs to be canned and new leaders elected, AFTER a thorough investigation by some independent party so this kind of crap does not continue. I don’t think any US-style NFL league is the answer as commercial interests will even more trump the sporting ones…but there must be a way to fix the mess before pro cycling descends to the level of World Wrestling Entertainment….it’s not that far away at present.

  8. To simplify: everyone in pro-cycling knows that at best the UCI turned a blind eye on doping. This is what the French call “un secret de polichinelle.” It’s a secret, but everybody knows it….

    Look at the preceding UCI monarch’s statements on epo for a further indication if need be.
    The UCI is and was complicit in the doping scandals (they minimize them and always try and cover their asses and try to slow down the wheels of justice at every turn); worse because they were (are) in charge of policing their sport they are in dereliction of duty. Most Pro cyclists dope because the UCI is incapable or unwilling to create an environment where doping doesn’t pay.
    The furthest thing from the UCI’s mind is the welfare of cyclist and the fight against doping, that’s the problem in cycling, not race radios…

  9. There are a few compelling questions that need to be answered, but most likely won’t be:

    1) If the Swiss Government received a CRI from France, would they have acted on it, and “forced” the UCI to comply? While doping may be a crime in France, the Swiss might have no interest in helping, as there was no parallel investigation or crime in Switzerland, and the information was not under their jurisdiction, but under a private organization, which might not be compelled to comply even upon request.

    2) What was the medical information requested? Was it really confidential or was it already publicly disclosed elsewhere? The fact that Vino tested positive for blood doping was already public, but perhaps the details behind the positive test are considered proprietary, personal or confidential. But if the information was already in the public sphere, they would not be breaching any confidentiality.

    However it seems that if the UCI really wants to fight doping and take advantage of the criminality of the offense in certain nations, they would cooperate with authorities to the best of their abilities. This means more than sending procedural memos. It means having a sit down with the prosecutors and explain in detail what can and cannot be done, while laying out a road map for how best to accomplish the goal of assisting in the prosecution. But all of this assumes the UCI has any interest in aiding a criminal prosecution.

    Another question would be, where are WADA and AFLD in all of this?

  10. Update: Ok, after reading an article in La République des Pyrénées with a bit more information, it seems that the French judicial authorities had delivered several CRI, but that the Swiss authorities did not respond favourably to them. The reason would be that the French criminal proceedings related to the athletes who doped and not to the persons who provided the doping products.

    My guess would be that the request was considered to relate to secrets protected by Swiss law (personal data). In such a case, a CRI can only be acted upon by the Swiss authorities if the prosecuted offense is also punishable in Switzerland. So the CRI were most probably turned down because doping is not a criminal offense in Switzerland, only the traficing in doping products, and the French case related only to the athletes, not the persons who provided the doping products.

  11. Seems pretty easy to imagine that after the 2007 fiasco, Vina, Astana and others likely bowed down to the UCI (i.e. – paid $$$$ to the UCI) in order to both get back into the good graces of Pat as well as ensuring that the UCI would do everything it could to delay and obstruct the French legal case against the culprits.

  12. The UCI doesn’t have a big stock of goodwill amongst many fans. It could be the use of paperwork was a blocking or delaying tactic but it could equally be administrative and legal incompetence, just as it could be genuine protection of medical data.

    RaphBxl: valuable stuff but note that the bio passport and other UCI data aren’t protected, we’ve seen data used by the UCI to prosecute riders, it given to team managers to help their recruitment decisions and more. So it is not quite the case that it’s kept totally secret. As I said above, the public prosecutor singled out the UCI but there have to be other reasons too, no?

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