Verbruggen denies any conflict of interest after financial link emerges with Armstrong team owner
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Verbruggen denies any conflict of interest after financial link emerges with Armstrong team owner

by Shane Stokes at 7:59 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
UCI honorary president says ‘nothing illegal has happened’

UCIThe UCI president who was in power during Lance Armstrong’s reign during the Tour de France, Hein Verbruggen, has denied there was any conflict of interest after it emerged that he had business interests with the Texan’s team owner Thom Weisel.

The Wall Street Journal reported overnight that Weisel’s investment bank managed assets for Verbruggen, who was UCI chief until 2005 and who is now its honorary president.

The newspaper received confirmation from Jim Ochowicz, the current general manager of the BMC Racing Team and former USA Cycling President, who previously worked as a financial broker and who managed investments for Verbruggen.

When Ochowicz began working at Weisel’s investment bank, he confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he brought that account over with him. That investment bank, Thomas Weisel Partners, then managed some of Verbruggen’s personal assets from 2001 to 2004, a period when Armstrong was doping his way to major victories and when the UCI was expected to maintain a fully objective relationship with the US Postal Service and all other cycling teams.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart played a key role in proving that Armstrong and his team-mate used banned substances to dominate the sport, and states that he saw serious conflicts of interest in the news. “To have the head of the sport, who's responsible for enforcing anti-doping rules, in business with the owner of the team that won seven straight Tours de France in violation of those rules—it certainly stinks to high heaven, particularly now, given what's been exposed that happened under his watch,” he told the paper.

In a 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Verbruggen said he had never been involved in a business relationship with Ochowicz and Weisel. Now, responding today to the latest news, Verbruggen modified that stance but told AP that he has nothing to be worried about. “Nothing illegal has happened, or ever did. The comments of Mr. Tygart, I would call them cynical almost,” he said.

“I have given Jim a small amount of money to manage for me, and he moved to (work for) Thom Weisel,” he continued. “I didn't even know who Thom Weisel was. There is no relationship whatsoever. You give a guy that you like a small amount of money to manage and 12 years later I end up in a doping case.”

Weisel is thought to be a defendant in the Qui Tam whistleblower case launched by Floyd Landis and which alleges that the team committed fraud when it used sponsorship money from the US Postal Service, a government agency, to back a team which was using banned products.

A decision is expected to be made soon by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about whether or not the government will join Landis’ case. If so, the odds of victory would be greatly increased.

If Armstrong, Weisel or others are found guilty, they could be liable to pay up to $100 million in damages.

CBS News reported this week that Armstrong offered over $5 million as a settlement to federal agents as compensation, but that this was rejected. It is thought that Justice Department officials also rejected as ‘inadequate’ his offer to be a cooperating witness.

In 2010 the Daily News listed the defendants as including Armstrong, Weisel, Armstrong’s manager Bill Stapleton, Bart Knaggs, former US Postal Service general manager Johan Bruyneel, plus the companies Tailwind Sports Corporation, Tailwind LLC, Montgomery Sports, Inc., and Capital Sports and Entertainment.

Armstrong will confess to doping on Oprah Winfrey’s show tonight after years of denials, threats and legal actions against his accusers.

He has reportedly offered to testify against senior officials in the sport. According to former team-mates of Armstrong, the Texan told them that Verbruggen had helped him deal with a positive test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

The Dutchman denies this, and also denies a claim that he received a $500, 000 payment from Weisel and Nike in 1999. Armstrong tested positive for corticoids during that year’s Tour but was allowed to continue in the race.

He told Dutch magazine De Muur this week that he was ‘not responsible’ for the fact that Armstrong and his team doped for many years and were never caught. In 2011 he defended the American, telling the AD.nl website that he was sure that the American rider had ‘never, never, never doped.’

Now, he appears to be shifting the blame to the anti-doping agencies for not catching the rider. “Nobody knew anything for sure. We knew as much as the journalists.

“If you test someone 215 times and he is always negative, then the problem is in the test itself. I'm not responsible. I don't understand the whole fuss at all.”

He now concedes that accepting a substantial donation from Armstrong to the UCI was flawed. “In retrospect, I should not have taken the money,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to the San Francisco Business Times, Weisel claimed that he did not know about any drug use on the US Postal Service team. “I never had one discussion with one coach or one rider about doping,” he said. “And to my knowledge, the guys that were running my program – Mark Gorski (Postal general manager) and (operations director) Dan Osipow – they did not either.”

“People say ‘Jesus, you had to know this was going on because everyone was doing it.’ That’s not true. I never thought it was. I don’t think many cycling teams were deploying that practice. And we certainly had part of our rider contract where if a person tested positive, they were off the team. We were very explicit there.”

If Armstrong does eventually testify, investigators will be keen to determine if the accounts given by Weisel and Verbruggen are indeed accurate. He is determined to try to reduce his lifetime ban and return to triathlon.

Under the WADA Code, such a ban can be reduced to eight years minimum, but WADA confirmed to VeloNation this week that in the event of serious cooperation and the provision of important information, that there might be scope within the rules to reduce it further.

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