Monday 9 December 2019

Eddy Merckx faces corruption charges over claims of irregular purchases involving Brussels police

Eddy Merckx (right) won the Tour de France five times and is a national hero in his homeland of Belgium Credit: getty images
Eddy Merckx (right) won the Tour de France five times and is a national hero in his homeland of Belgium Credit: getty images

Eddy Merckx, the five-time Tour de France winner and greatest cyclist of all time, may be charged on Wednesday in a Belgian corruption case linked to irregular purchases of equipment by Brussels-area police and municipalities, a Brussels prosecutor said.

The prosecutor, who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to make public statements, said Merckx is accused of corruption and the use of false documents in the sale of 46 bicycles by his then-company Cycles EddyMerckx to police in southern Brussels in 2006-07.

The contract, worth an estimated €15,000, was allegedly obtained after a policeman furnished Merckx with inside information. Merckx allegedly rewarded the officer by selling him a carbon-fibre bicycle at a low price and giving a bicycle to the man's wife.

If found guilty of the charges against him, the prosecutor said, Merckx could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. He said such a heavy sentence was unlikely for a person many Belgians consider their country's greatest hero.

Twelve others, including two former high-ranking police officers, are also charged in the case.

"What Merckx is accused of is really small potatoes compared to some of the others," the prosecutor said. Some of the irregular procurements involved Toyota vehicles and security cameras, according to published accounts.

Merckx, 70, could not immediately be reached for comment, but was quoted by the Belgian daily newspaper Derniere Heure as saying, "I have nothing to say. We'll see what happens."

After the criminal charges are confirmed by the Brussels prosecutor's office, a panel of judges will decide whether the case should proceed to trial. The panel is expected to consider the case in early September, the prosecutor said.

Meanwhile, Colombian rider Sergio Henao has been cleared of any wrongdoing after his biological data were analysed by experts, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Tuesday.

Henao was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky last month after concerns re-surfaced about his biological data.

He had been contacted by the UCI and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) with regards to his Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) data between August 2011 and June 2015.

"On 20 April 2016, in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) Operating Guidelines, the independent experts of the Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) in Lausanne, Switzerland, requested further information from Sergio Henao about his ABP values," the UCI said in a statement.

"As per the applicable ABP regulations, the rider's explanations were sent to the same experts for review. After examination, the independent experts came to the conclusion that there was no basis to proceed further."

The 28-year-old climber was voluntarily withdrawn by the team for three months in March 2014 after their own monitoring of his ABP and his out-of-competition tests during his usual winter training block back home at high altitude in Colombia.

Sky commissioned an independent 10-week research program into the biological characteristics of riders who live and train at high altitude with the results revealing nothing to raise suspicion of any wrongdoing by Henao.

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