Court orders Dedecker to pay token damages

A Belgian court has ordered politician Jean-Marie Dedecker to pay damages to the management...

A Belgian court has ordered politician Jean-Marie Dedecker to pay damages to the management companies of Quick.Step-Innergetic team manager Patrick Lefevere and Tom Boonen, but for a total of one euro. The politician had claimed on television that three of the country's top cyclists travelled to Italy in February 2006 to undertake illicit doping practices, and Lefevere sued for damages. No riders' names were mentioned, but Lefevere felt the comments were directed at him since virtually all the top Belgian riders race for his Quick.Step-Innergetic team.

Esperanza bvba (Lefevere's management company), the IPCT (International Professional Cycling Teams) and Celio Sport & Image (Tom Boonen's management company) filed suit against Dedecker for damages of 25,000 euros each. Dedecker in turn filed a countersuit, claiming that the suit against him was reckless and provocative. He has said that he will appeal Monday's ruling against him.

In ordering the token payment, the judge ruled that the complainants had not proved that they had suffered damage from the comments, and added that recent doping cases have caused more damage to cycling than Dedecker's comments.

The politician claimed that the point of the lawsuit was to force him to keep quiet. The judge did not agree, saying that Dedecker had been imprudent in making the remarks. The law of freedom of speech does not allow someone to make accusations without proof, the judge ruled.

Lefevere felt vindicated with his token victory. "I don't care about the one euro, but I find it important that the right thing has been done," he told Sporza radio. "It surprises me that Dedecker is lodging an appeal. He is a poor loser."

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