UCI demands answers from Astana following criminal investigation surrounding paying agent
'The UCI promptly requested information from the team and shall require updated information,' the governing body tells VeloNews.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The UCI has confirmed to VeloNews that it is closely monitoring the situation at Astana Qazaqstan after it was reported by this site that the team’s paying agent and individuals were under a criminal judicial investigation in Luxembourg.
The investigation is focused on allegations surrounding the misuse of corporate assets, breach of trust, fraud, and possible money laundering as part of the management of the team’s paying agent Abacanto SA. The investigation was launched in 2021 on the back of an independent Deloitte report that was commissioned by the then head of Abacanto SA, Yana Seel.
Now at Lotto-Soudal, Seel was concerned with the financial running of the paying agent with over 500,000 Euros paid in ‘consultant fees’ to rider agents, 62,960 Euros spent on watches that were not properly documented, and 498,595 Euros going toward private jet use between 2017 and 2018. The Deloitte report consisted of other areas it deemed as ‘red flags’ in a near-60-page document seen by VeloNews.
- Astana Qazaqstan’s paying agent under judicial investigation as delays hit latest wages
- Astana Qazaqstan yet to pay riders in 2022
- Private jets, luxury watches and financial red flags: Inside a confidential report surrounding Astana Qazaqstan
The UCI has told VeloNews that it was unaware of the Luxembourg investigation until reports of it first surfaced earlier this month but the governing body confirmed it immediately raised the issue with the squad.
“The UCI has not been notified in any manner regarding the investigation which has been reported in the press,” the governing body told VeloNews in an email.
“The UCI promptly requested information from the team and shall require updated information in the event that the investigation leads to further proceedings. The UCI understands that the investigation is (or was) directed against individuals upon filing of a denunciation by the paying agent of the team, Abacanto SA. The UCI is following this situation closely.”
Earlier this month the team attempted to play down the investigation. Alexandre Vinkourov, who is named throughout the Deloitte report and in a letter from the Service de Police Judiciare in Luxembourg on July 8, claimed that like the UCI, he had only learned about the investigation from the media report.
“To be honest, I learned about this whole story from the press, and until that moment I was not familiar with the details of this investigation,” Vinokourov told VeloNews on March 9.
“Apparently, we are talking about some kind of legal procedure that was initiated a year ago, when another person was the managing director of Abacanto S.A., while I performed purely sports functions until the summer of 2021. Officially, after a break, I returned to work with the team in January 2022, so it’s difficult for me to comment something on this issue.”
The break Vinkourov referred to was when he was suspended from the team. He was later reinstated after the Kazakhstan wing of the organization intervened. As a result of Vinokourov’s return then co-sponsor Premier Tech stepped away from the squad.
The fact that the UCI was not aware of the criminal investigation raises questions over the awarding of a WorldTour license to Astana and the protocols and checks that are followed during that process. The UCI would not directly respond to questions on that matter.
However the UCI did confirm it was also monitoring the payment situation at Astana after VeloNews reported on March 11 that riders were still waiting for the January and February wages. At the time, the team blamed the holdup on the government changes in Kazakhstan.
“The UCI is aware that there were some delay in the payments at the start of the season. The UCI is closely monitoring this situation with the team to ensure that it will be solved as soon as possible,” the UCI said.