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by Shane Stokes
June 9, 2015
Photography by Wildfire films, Shane Stokes, Cor Vos
Three months after saying he would be astonished if the Hein Verbruggen legal case against him continued in the wake of the CIRC report, Paul Kimmage has confirmed that the Dutchman is persisting in his efforts and that a hearing will be held in one month’s time in Switzerland.
Kimmage recently received a summons to appear at a court in Vevey on July 8 at 11 am over the matter, and told CyclingTips this week that he is stunned at the former UCI president’s course of action.
“I find it extraordinary that, given the whole grounds for this is the Landis interview and the criticism that Landis made of Verbruggen, and that has been totally borne out by the CIRC report.
“It concluded that a), the UCI did not follow their own rules, and b) there was an extremely unhealthy relationship between the president of the UCI and Lance Armstrong. Now, how Verbruggen expects a Swiss court to find otherwise is absolutely beyond me. Given that CIRC had access to all of the documentation before they made that ruling, it is just incredible to me that this man wants to persist with this.”
Verbruggen and his successor Pat McQuaid both launched suits against Kimmage in the past, claiming defamation of their character in terms of his criticism of them and how they handled anti-doping in the UCI. They were also unhappy with comments made by Floyd Landis in the course of an interview with Kimmage.
McQuaid dropped out of his legal suit last year but Verbruggen pushed onwards with his portion of it.
However his lawyers appeared to be stalling in anticipation of the release of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission report, which was eventually released in March.
The CIRC was set up in part to look into allegations against the UCI, including claims that it had too close a relationship with Lance Armstrong. The American won the Tour de France seven times but later had those titles stripped by the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA), which found that he had doped for much of his career and also committed other violations including trafficking and supply of banned substances.
Armstrong received a lifetime ban in 2012 and later admitted to many of the USADA findings.
Although both Verbruggen and McQuaid both claimed after the release of the CIRC report that it vindicated them and their presidencies of the UCI, the commission was highly critical of both.
It concluded that serious errors were made by Verbruggen, McQuaid and others.
The former was criticised for being dismissive of clean riders who tried to highlight the problem of doping in the sport; he had been scathing about individuals such as Graeme Obree and Giles Delion when they tried to highlight the issue in the past, and is known to have called journalists and editors and criticised them when they wrote about the matter.
Obree and Delion’s warnings were proven to be fully accurate when the Festina Affair rocked the sport in 1998.
McQuaid’s later reactions to whistleblowers also came under the spotlight in the report.
CIRC found that in the 1990s, the UCI was simply trying to manage the sport’s image rather than effectively knuckling down to tackle doping. It gave the example of the 50% red blood cell limit introduced under Verbruggen, saying that while this may have been an initial measure to try to prevent deaths, that it soon became seen as a licence to dope up to a certain point.
Both Verbruggen and McQuaid were also faulted with having far too close a relationship with Lance Armstrong, with numerous examples being given to show how the rider was favoured. These include the approval of a backdated prescription which allowed him sidestep disqualification after a positive test in the 1999 Tour de France, the failure to target test him despite suspicions of doping and also the flawed Vrijman report.
The latter was an inquiry set up in 2005 to look into allegations of EPO use by Armstrong dating back to that 1999 Tour. Rather than that report being objective, CIRC found that the UCI actively engaged in a whitewash and put pressure on the individual compiling the report to issue conclusions favourable to the Texan.
It found that Armstrong’s legal team was allowed to help write the conclusions, an astonishing development in what was being claimed by the UCI at the time to be a full independent audit of the Armstrong affair.
CIRC was also critical with what it said was the waiving of anti-doping rules to allow Armstrong to return to racing in the 2009 Santos Tour Down Under. CIRC concluded that this occurred after McQuaid intervened and said that there are indications that Armstrong was likely given a green light on the understanding that he would agree to ride the Tour of Ireland later that year.
It is in this light that Kimmage is astounded that the suit continues. He recently lost his father, his mother is currently ill and his frustration – and anger – is clear when speaking to him.
“What is about now is money, costing me money. I have had three f** years of this now, three years of this hanging over my head, and I am not f** amused by it at all,” he said.
“I am not in the slightest bit amused by it. And I hope that I am going to go to Switzerland and get some justice. If there is not, there is going to be hell to pay.”
Kimmage is being represented by the Swiss lawyer Cedric Aguet. Asked if the latter is confident of winning, the Irishman said that he is.
“They [Verbruggen’s legal team] have been stalling for a long, long time because of the CIRC report. They were stalling to see what the outcome of that was,” he said. “They were putting it off and putting it off. And now we have had the report and obviously we both feel in a lot better place than we were before, because it is has just borne out everything that Floyd said. So I think he would be very confident.”
Even so, you get the sense that he’d prefer if the case had just gone away. “The notion now that Hein Verbruggen is going to walk out of his apartment, walk ten minutes around the corner and swan into this court room while I have got to book flights, book hotels, pay my lawyer, which I don’t have money to do…this is a f** big joke to him that he can do this.
“Why didn’t he sue the Sunday Times or sue Lance Armstrong or sue the people who were responsible for this is beyond me. I am not amused at all.”
He feels the case was at least partially designed to stop others from being critical of the UCI.
“This is all about sending a message out. Of course it was. I was singled out for this, and that is what it is all about.”
Whatever way the case turns out, somebody will have to pay the likely considerable legal costs. When the case against him was first launched, Kimmage was unemployed and was frank that he didn’t have the money to mount a defence.
Many within cycling were frustrated by what they saw as intimidation against a journalist and banded together to contribute to a defence fund set up jointly by the NYVelocity and Cyclismas websites.
The latter took over the running of the fund, which raised over $92,000 to cover legal fees. However the co-founder of that website, Aaron Brown, transferred the funds to an account controlled by him alone and, despite pledges to release it if Kimmage needed it, never did so.
In April a final judgement was rendered against him by the Massachusetts Superior Court, which found him liable for that fund’s disappearance. The lawyer who launched a class action lawsuit against him, Bill Hue, is currently trying to track him down and enforce legal demands for repayment of the fund.
Brown is thought to be in Europe and Hue is trying to use the Hague Convention to implement the judgement.
After the fund went missing the sportswear company Skins pledged to support Kimmage. In May 2013 its chairman Jaimie Fuller promised that the company would cover his costs if the fund remained out of reach.
Fuller had been deeply critical of the UCI and was part of the push for a change in leadership, something which led to Brian Cookson being elected in September 2013. More recently he has led a campaign against FIFA corruption.
“The sudden lack of transparency surrounding the defence account has left Paul exposed,” said Fuller in a statement released in May 2013. “He is very concerned the UCI could take advantage of his lack of access to the fund and re-launch an action against him that outraged the cycling fraternity,” he stated.
“As a huge fan of Paul and what he stands for, we couldn’t let that happen. So if he incurs legal expenses in relation to defending future UCI action while continuing to be denied access to the fund, we’ll support him to ensure he is able to defend himself.”
Kimmage confirmed that he hoped this commitment would be honoured if necessary.
“I haven’t spoken to Jaimie because obviously I wanted to see where this is going and I wanted to see what my own costs are,” he told CyclingTips. “But I have been proceeding all along on that basis, that Jaimie would honour that commitment and I expect him to do so. I would be hopeful that he would do so.
“But I am more hopeful that we are going to win, and that Verbruggen will have to pay all the costs. That is where this has to end for me. That Verbruggen loses and he has to pay all the costs of this as that is what he f** deserves. That would be justice, that he loses.”