Swiss Police Seize Documents In Raid At European Swimming League Offices As Part Of Investigation Into Leadership

2021-03-18 Reading Time: 4 minutes
Paolo Barelli LEN president at the opening of the Nyon offices - Photo courtesy of Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia
Paolo Barelli LEN president at the opening of the Nyon offices - Photo courtesy of Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia for LEN

Swiss police have seized documents in a raid on the offices of the European Swimming League (LEN) as part of an investigation into allegations of financial irregularities and “improper conduct” against the federation’s executive.

Officers from the Vaud Police searched the LEN offices in Nyon on Tuesday this week as part of an investigation being conducted by the Public Prosecutor of La Côte in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

The region that is home to LEN in Nyon and FINA, the global governing body for aquatic sports, in Lausanne on the north shores of Lake Geneva.

All three of the European Swimming League’s most senior executives at the time of the alleged events are also current members of the ruling FINA Bureau. They including the president, Paolo Barelli, also head of the Italian swimming federation (FIN), the general secretary, David Sparkes, also the former CEO of British Swimming, and the treasurer until recent elections, Tamas Gyarfas, the former head of the Hungarian swimming federation.

The LEN Leadership has previously denied any wrongdoing.

An extract of some of the allegations handed to LEN in a dossier compiled by veteran swimming governor Bartolo Consolo in December 2019
An extract of some of the allegations handed to LEN in a dossier compiled by veteran swimming governor Bartolo Consolo in December 2019

It is understood that all three men are being investigated by the Swiss Prosecutor in connection with the allegations made after a former president of the European regulator for swimming and head of Swiss Swimming, Bartolo Consolo, informed fellow board members of his concerns.

SOS also understands that a process of interviewing witnesses could begin next month, the disruption to timetables caused by the Covid pandemic allowing.

When the European Swimming League’s leadership failed to call a “professional investigation inside the Bureau” and rejected the suggestion of and outside independent investigation, Consolo reported his findings to the Swiss and Italian prosecutors and two sports Ethics panels, including the in-house body at FINA.

Inquiries have begun by prosecuting authorities in Switzerland and Italy, where the National Olympic Committee’s Ethics Panel is also looking into the matter, but FINA has yet to confirm whether it took any action in the year since Julio Maglione, the outgoing president of the global regulator, was informed of the allegations with a view to them being considered by the authority’s Ethics Panel.

SOS has sought confirmation of FINA’s position.

Police in Vaud confirmed to SOS that:

“- an investigation has been opened into allegations of improper management against leaders of the LEN by the public prosecutor of the district of La Côte;

“- on behalf of the prosecutor, a search was carried out by officers from the Security Police on Tuesday, March 16, at the headquarters of the European Swimming League. Documents useful for further investigations were seized.

Police Cantonale Vaudoise

The Vaud police service confirmed that during investigations there would be no further comment on the matter.

Asked for comment from the LEN leadership, a spokesman for LEN responding on their behalf, stated:

“LEN has expected the authorities requesting information and documents earlier as it is part of the normal procedure. LEN’s legal team wishes to have the case processed as fast as possible in order to initiate legal actions to those who committed the real wrongdoing against LEN by making false accusations.”

A source close to LEN said that the police action was “not a movie-like raid”. Officers are said to have arrived unannounced and then to have “politely waited” until office staff showed up with a key at a time when home-office is mandatory in Switzerland owing to to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. The police are said to have asked for “specific documents”, while computers were also checked.

The allegations surrounding the leadership of the European Swimming League were exposed in an exclusive investigation by SOS, the Frankfurter Allgemeine in Germany, The Sunday Telegraph in Australia, The Times in London.

A dossier seen by the reporting team asked serious questions of Paolo Barelli, the president of LEN and a vice-president of FINA, David Sparkes, the former head of British Swimming, and Tamas Gyarfas, the former head of the Hungarian swimming federation, both LEN executives and members of the top table of world swimming governance, the FINA Bureau.

The matter ended up in the hands of prosecutors as a “last resort” after Consolo, a past-secretary general of FINA and current Honorary Board member of the global regulator, felt that his attempts to have matters resolved within LEN, and then FINA, were being blocked. Further, Consolo himself was turned on by other members of the LEN Bureau for “daring” to raise questions about serious issues.

In the midst of the allegations is a contract allegedly showing that Barelli, Sparkes and Gyarfas are signatories to a 2016 contract with an insurance company called Elevan, in which a percentage of broadcast-rights revenue is promised in return for securing an increase in fees. Registered in Italy as an insurance company, Elevan also received fees in 2016 and 2017 for “identification and assistance activity” related to a lucrative LEN sponsorship deal with insurer UnipolSai, records sent to prosecutors show.

Elevan was one of several ‘consultant’ companies receiving fees from LEN even though their identities and their role and purpose in LEN work was unknown to directors and the majority of the ruling LEN Bureau, the top table of European swimming, according to documents seen by SOS and information submitted to the investigation now underway.

It is alleged that some of the companies at the heart of the investigation are owned by or closely linked to the helm of European Swimming’s management.

Confirmation of the search at LEN offices coincided with separate news from Moscow that another member of the LEN Bureau, Alexei Vlasenkov, has been arrested on allegations of fraud. The case is unrelated to the LEN investigation in Switzerland. Vlasenkov is also the chairman of the FINA Diving Technical Committee.

Furthercoverage of the allegations at the heart of the LEN investigation:

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