By Susan Westemeyer
Embattled cycling star Jan Ullrich accepted a settlement on Monday which would allow him to end the fraud case against him without having to admit any guilt, however the prosecutor in charge of the case is certain the rider doped, but had been punished enough by the loss of his job and image. Ullrich paid a "six-figure" sum to have charges that he defrauded his employer, the T-Mobile team, settled.
Prosecutor Fred Apostel told the dpa that he was certain that the rider had resorted to doping during his career. "Our over 21 months of investigation have shown [that] Jan Ullrich doped," Apostel said. "The investigation looked into whether Ullrich had defrauded his employer by using doping practices.
Apostel's statment did not sit well with Ullrich's attorney, Johann Schwenn, who called it an "audacious statement." "If there is enough suspicion of him having committed a crime, then the state attorney should file a legal complaint," Schwenn argued. "It is not for Mr. Apostel to spread malicious gossip."
The prosecutor conceded, "Ullrich was an oustanding talent," but added that he thought Ullrich had come to the conclusion that he would have to dope to be competitive. He added that Ullrich "had been punished enough" through the loss of his job, livelihood and financial losses, "not to mention the loss of image."
The settlement in the case only applied to Ullrich, and an investigation of Ullrich's former mentor Rudy Pevenage is still underway, and there may be further investigations of other members of the former Team Telekom/T-Mobile management as well.
In a statement published on his personal website, janullrich.de, Ullrich proudly claimed, "In my whole career I have never cheated and never damaged anyone. I was always a fair athlete." He added, "My successes were the result of hard work and a passion for my sport - and I am proud of my long and successful career."
The news of the settlement was welcomed by Jörg Jaksche, who was suspended after confessing to his own doping practices. He supported the action, saying, "It is surely correct that the fraud charges be dropped, because he didn't defraud anyone since doping was so prevalent. But after reviwing the record, everyone can draw their own conclusion about Ullrich and the theme of doping."
Despite the resolution of the fraud case, Ullrich's legal difficulties are far from over. Since he held a Swiss license, he is still under investigation by Swiss Olympic, which handles doping cases for the Swiss cycling federation. That investigation is predicted to be finished before the summer, and could involve a lifetime ban for Ullrich as a two-time offender. He was suspended for six months in 2002 after having tested positive for amphetamines.
Ullrich must also answer to German anti-doping crusader Werner Franke statements that he paid Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes 35,000 Euros as part of the Operación Puerto blood doping ring.
As part of the settlement, Ullrich reportedly waived a seven-figure claim against former Team Coast owner Günther Dahms. Ullrich rode for the team in 2003, and had sued to recover unpaid bonuses and salary, rumoured to amount to a total of up to 1.5 million Euros, after the team went bankrupt.
Since Ullrich's possible involvement in Operación Puerto was made public, Dahms has refused to further the case on the grounds that Ullrich doped during this team at the team in violation of his contract. Ullrich clarified on his web site that he would give up the claims on bonuses, but, "I will continue to take legal steps to recover the salary which has still not been paid for my athletic services."