Responding to media reports that a Belgian prosecutor has decided that Alexandre Vinokourov and Alexandr Kolobnev should face trial in relation to allegations concerning the 2010 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Astana team has denied the news.
The now-retired Vinokourov is the general manager of the squad. It acknowledges the case is ongoing, but questions media reports saying that the prosecutor had already made a decision.
“The Court chamber of the Liege criminal Court had to decide on this September 11th on the questions to know if the investigation made by the Public Prosecutor and the Investigating Judge may be considered as completed or not, if they are sufficient elements in order to refer the case before a Criminal Court called to decide on the merits or if the charges needed to be dropped for lack of evidence,” said the team in a statement.
“The Chamber has not taken any decision owing to the circumstance that the respective lawyers of the two incriminated cyclists had officially requested additional duties to find out the whole truth of this matter.”
It said that because of this request, that things are currently on hold.
“In such a case, the Chamber has the obligation to postpone its decision until the reaction of the Investigating Judge and, in case of refusal from him, by the Court of Appeal, and that is what the Chamber did.”
News about the case emerged earlier on Wednesday when Sky Sports said that a decision had been made by the prosecutor.
Vinokourov had been accused of paying Kolobnev €100,000 in relation to the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège race. The Kazakh rider had just returned from a doping ban and dropped breakaway companion Kolobnev close to the finish, soloing to the win.
The following year Swiss magazine L’Illustre made the accusation and published emails that appeared to show the agreement.
The UCI said that it would investigate the matter but, despite proof of payments uncovered during an investigation into the doping doctor Michele Ferrari, the governing body never announced a conclusion.
Last year a Liège court started its own investigation, and this has led to the latest developments.
If found guilty, both could face between six months and three years in prison, plus fines of between 300,000 and 600,000 euro.
Astana said that Wednesday’s news was unfair. “Mr Vinokurov’s lawyer, Jean-Louis Lodomez, is negatively surprised by comments made in the media attributed to the Public prosecutor and the Investigating Judge,” it stated.
The matter raises considerable questions about the sport. There have been numerous examples over the decades of informal agreements being made in races; favours granted one day can be repaid on another.
The difference in this matter appears to be the payment of money, which moves things to a new level.