Vinokourov distances himself from Astana judicial investigation but documents show his clear involvement
'To be honest, I learned about this whole story from the press, and until that moment I was not familiar with the details' Astana boss tells VeloNews.
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Alexandre Vinokourov has quickly moved to distance himself from a judicial investigation in Luxembourg, however, documents seen by VeloNews show that the Astana general manager is part of a widespread investigation looking into a series of alleged offenses.
The investigation is focused on the misuse of corporate assets, breach of trust, fraud, and money laundering as part of the management of the team’s paying agent Abacanto SA.
A letter sent from the Service de Police Judiciare on July 8 2021 states: “For reasons of secrecy of investigation we cannot tell you all of the steps that we will be taking but some of these steps include the hearing of persons likely to be involved in the said infringement, including among others Mr. Alexandr Vinokourov.”
On Tuesday VeloNews published a story confirming that the public prosecutor’s office in Luxembourg had opened a case involving Astana Qazaqstan’s paying agent and license holder, Abacanto SA. The case stems from an earlier civil action that was brought in 2021. The investigation is currently sitting with an investigating judge who may then recommend whether the Luxembourg state prosecutor brings the case to trial.
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When contacted by VeloNews and Dutch publication Wielerflits on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Judicial Administration level would only confirm that the case was in motion. They would not confirm or deny Vinokourov’s alleged involvement.
“The public prosecutor’s office in Luxembourg confirms that a judicial investigation has been opened following a complaint with civil action lodged for facts that were allegedly committed within the framework of the Luxembourg company ABACANTO S.A. and are likely to constitute offenses,” Henri Eippers, a former RTL journalist who is now a Judicial Administration spokesperson, told VeloNews.
“In view of the ongoing investigation, the public prosecutor’s office does not intend to provide any further information on this case.”
At the time of publication Astana Qazaqstan would not comment, first stating that the team was not aware of the case and later that they would not be making a statement at all.
However, on Wednesday morning the team reached out to VeloNews directly with a quote from their team boss.
“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 said.
“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.”
Vinokourov does not name the other individual but during that phase, Yana Seel was the general manager of the Astana team. She left to join Lotto-Soudal at the start of 2022. Seel is named in the letter from the Service de Police Judiciare on July 8.
VeloNews reached out to Seel directly for a response to the matter.
“I can confirm that juridical investigation is ongoing. However in order not to interfere with that ongoing investigation I can not give any further comments on this matter,” she told VeloNews.
The break Vinokourov is referring to in his statement took place when he was suspended by the team in 2021, and when his contract was effectively set to wind down until its expiry. He was later reinstated and as a result Premier Tech decided to end their sponsorship with the team.
Another document seen by VeloNews also details the reasons for Vinokourov’s dismissal in 2021. A letter from Premier Tech at the time states that: “Premier Tech wishes to share with you that it is highly uncomfortable and dissatisfied with your performance as Team Principal of the Astana Premier Tech team which is operated by Abacanto SA a 50% subsidiary of Premier Tech International LTD.”
The letter adds that Vinokourov was effectively put on probation at the start of 2021 following a string of poor seasons and a lack of what Premier Tech called ‘leadership.’
“Now that we are 6 months into 2021 we have no other choice but to come to the conclusion that there has been no improvement to your level of communication, openness, and global cooperation with the Team management and Board of Directors of Abacanto SA.”
The letter concludes by stating that Vinokourov was suspended from all active duties and that his contract would not be renewed.
The Luxembourg investigation isn’t the only issue facing Astana and their general manager. Last week VeloNews revealed that the team’s riders had not been paid their January wages, and while that delay has now been rectified, with that month’s wages appearing in riders’ bank accounts Monday, there is still no sign of February’s installments, according to a source close to the situation.