How to win friends and influence people...

FEBRUARY 29, 2000

How to win friends and influence people...

FIA President Max Mosley has launched another blistering attack on the European Commission Competition department and is threatening to take his complaints to the European Courts of Justice if the commission does not withdraw the charges it has made against the FIA.

The Competition Directorate's statement of objections last summer concluded that the FIA abused its dominant position to restrict competition and suggested that teams are forced to have FIA licences which can be cancelled if they compete in rival championships. Ecclestone is accused of having concluded contracts which infringe EU competition law. According to the Commission, all the F1 TV contracts will have to be renegotiated if the views are confirmed.

A final ruling is expected within the next couple of months. The Commission has the right to levy heavy fines against both the FIA and Ecclestone's various companies if it decides that they have broken European competition rules. The case could have serious knock-on effects for Ecclestone's plans to float his organization on the London Stock Exchange.

In a letter to the European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti last week, Mosley accused the European Commission of having "made a hopeless muddle of the facts" and said that officials were "completely confused about the regulation and general functioning of motor sport."

Mosley said that the Commission has "no sustainable case in law".

The FIA President cited four reasons for his comments: the Commission's failure to meet the legal requirements to enable a respondent to defend itself; its failure to define which markets it is complaining about; its failure to demonstrate that the FIA holds a dominant position and its failure to demonstrate abuse.

While this will hardly have pleased Monti, Mosley went on to allege "illegal and improper conduct" by the director-general of the competition directorate, John Temple Lang, accusing him of "using the authority of his position to lobby and exert improper pressure on a sporting body on behalf of an outside business interest."

The accusation is based on contact between Temple Lang and Patrick Peter, who was one of the two people who complained to the Commission about the FIA which sparked off the investigation. Peter settled his differences with the FIA when F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone agreed to pay him $2m but has recently been trying to negotiate a TV deal to cover the WorldÊRallyÊChampionship.

The allegation that Temple Lang and Peter have been working together is a very serious one and, as a lawyer, Mosley would not have made it if he did not feel that he had a good case.

"This sort of thing would look bad in the darkest recesses of the Third World," Mosley told reporters. "We don't want special favors. We just want a rational and unbiased assessment of our case."

The FIA received an apology from the European Commission last year because the organization had leaked confidential documents to the media. In December the FIA won a case at the Court of First Instance, which ordered the Commission to pay $39,000 towards the FIA's costs.

The suggestion of improper behavior will not go down well with the new Commission which has been trying to avoid comparison with the previous Commissioners who were forced to resign en masse in March last year following a scathing report into fraud and mismanagement.

In his letter Mosley attacked the Competition Directorate for failing to implement the reforms that the new Commission pledged to introduce.

Mosley asked Monti to mount an independent investigation into the conduct of the Competition Directorate activities towards the FIA during the course of the last six years; to replace officials dealing with the FIA case with a member of the Commission's legal service; to stage a public hearing into the case and to give the FIA all documents relating to the case.

The European Commissioner's reaction was equally forthright. "These attacks are totally baseless," he said. "His new criticisms have already been the subject of an internal enquiry which concluded that they were equally unjustified. The practises of the Commission over cases concerning competition have always been to come to a decision based on the hard evidence. I can assure everyone that this will be the case for FIA as for any other body we investigate."

The latest exchange would seem to suggest that the FIA's relationship with the new Competition Commissioner is no better than that with the departed Karel Van Miert and that means that it will take several years to sort out all the squabbling.

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