Patrick Lefevere, the long-standing manager of the Quick-Step Floors team, was acquitted of tax evasion on Monday in a criminal court in Kortrijk, according to reports in Belgian newspapers.
The 62-year-old was at the heart of a long-running investigation revolving around financial irregularities at the team, which had already seen riders such as Tom Boonen make settlements with the tax authorities.
Lefevere had not settled and, along with his wife, found himself involved in a protracted court case, where prosecutors argued that a Luxembourg-registered company was being run from Wevelgem, in Belgium, to hide revenues related to image rights. It was also heard that there was missing documentation for prize money distributed to riders.
It was judged, however, that there was insufficient evidence of a deliberate scheme to evade taxation.
"It is not implausible that this is a matter of carelessness and ignorance. In addition, the tax benefit is very limited in relation to the turnover of the team,” said the judge.
Despite the acquittal, Het Nieuwsblad reports that Lefevere has had to make a payment of ‘several hundred thousand euros’ to the tax authorities.
"A criminal record is the death sentence of the team. Then you wouldn’t be able to attract sponsors, because no company wants to be linked to tax fraud, said Lefevere’s lawyer Johan Speecke, according to Het Nieuwsblad, later adding: "We had a strong case, but ultimately it is the judge who decides. I have not heard from my clients, but I suspect they will be very satisfied.”