Belgian politician Jean-Marie Dedecker must pay Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere and rider Tom Boonen a token 1 euro in damages for defamation, a Belgian appeals court in Ghent ruled today. The ruling upheld a 2007 verdict.
Dedecker made allegations on television in 2006 that he knew of three top Belgian riders who had received illegal doping products in Italy, but did not give names. The Quick Step team was quick to react, stating that the public would look to the team and Boonen with suspicion over the comment since most of the country's top riders were on the team.
Lefevere's management company, Esperanza bvba, 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. But a judge ruled that there was insufficient proof that the team or Boonen had suffered damage, although he acknowledged that Dedecker's comments were imprudent and handed down a token award of 1 euro each.
"I’m very pleased with the courts’ decision, this is an important confirmation," Lefevere said in a statement. "The symbolic payment of one euro represents much deeper values. It means that every one of us is responsible with regard to others for our own actions and statements, without exception."
Lefevere also sued the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, its reporters and editor who went one step further with the story, alleging that Lefevere had participated in doping his riders for 30 years. He was awarded 500,000 euros in damages last November.
Dedecker's claims were taken seriously by investigators, however, after Dedecker handed over a dossier of information containing names of 20 people allegedly involved in doping Belgian cyclists and former Quick Step star Johan Museeuw confessed to having doped during his career.
The information led to raids that netted charges against 19 people, but none against any top riders or teams.
"I have the right to free speech. I maintain that three top riders were engaged in doping, only I have no proof," Dedecker said according to Sporza.be.
"The investigation was boycotted by political pressures at the top of the federal police, so the big names were not affected. These are serious charges that I can prove.
"The doping investigation eventually brought 19 people into the courts. So I succeeded in my objective, because a drug trafficking network was rolled up."