A prominent figure in the equestrian community has been suspended for 20 months and fined 5000 Swiss francs for falsifying veterinary entries in the FEI passports of four Endurance horses under his care.
Pierre Arnould, in a decision released by the FEI Tribunal, was also ordered to pay 7000 Swiss Francs in legal costs.
The case against the 61-year-old Belgian national was heard by FEI Tribunal member Martin Gibbs.
Three of the passport entries related to vaccinations; the fourth related to an entry in the medical treatment section to record the horse was not destined for human consumption, thereby allowing certain veterinary treatments that otherwise would be prohibited.
Arnould has been involved in equestrian sport for 35 years, in particular Endurance. He served as team leader of the Belgian national team for many years, organised two FEI Endurance European Championships, one FEI Endurance World Championships, and is an active trainer of Endurance horses. He was also a member of the FEI Endurance Committee from 2011 to 2014.
The FEI brought its case to the tribunal after receiving information that Arnould had falsified the FEI passports of several horses by using an old stamp previously used by an FEI Veterinarian, Dr Wijnendaele, when he worked in Belgium. The stamp was used to make it appear that Dr Wijnendaele had vaccinated horses when he had not done so.
Dr Wijnendaele, a Belgian national, is a 4* FEI official veterinarian, and a 3* Endurance veterinary treatment official. He was registered as a veterinarian in Belgium until September 2005, when he moved abroad to practice and has not worked in Belgium since that date.
In April 2020, Dr Wijnendaele discovered that a Belgian horse’s FEI passport carried his name and professional stamp, despite being dated many years after he had left Belgium.
Dr Wijnendaele made further enquiries and discovered other instances of his old stamp having been applied to other FEI passports. He reported this to the FEI.
The investigation that gave rise to proceedings against Arnould relating to four horses, all trained by and in the care of Arnould at his stables in Belgium at the time of the purported vaccinations.
In the FEI’s view, the alleged offences involved maltreatment of horses because the animals whose passports were falsely stamped were put at risk of contracting diseases because they had not been vaccinated in accordance with the FEI Veterinary Regulations. Furthermore, it put other horses at risk that came into contact with the unvaccinated animals.
The FEI said the alleged offences involved fraud and a potentially criminal act; and the acts were carried out deliberately.
Arnauld’s legal counsel contested the allegations in a letter in response, with the matter subsequently going to a hearing.
In its submission to the tribunal, the FEI alleged Arnould was behind two documented cases of horses having one forged vaccination in their passports; one case of a horse having two forged vaccinations in its passport; and one case of a forged medication page.
Arnould’s counsel, Maître Philippe Lévy, described his client’s long involvement in the sport. In all his years in equestrian sport, Arnould had never been the subject of any complaint or sanction, nor had the horses or the riders under his responsibility and care, he said.
Arnould’s strongly held view was that the case against him was driven by people motivated by jealousy of his achievements in the sport or to seek to damage him because of separate disputes they have with him.
A specific motivation raised by Arnould was that some people in the sport wanted to undermine his prospects of becoming chair of the FEI Endurance Committee.
Arnould gave details of disagreements or disputes he had had with FEI witnesses in the case.
In a written submission, Arnould asserted that in May 2010 Dr Wijnendaele voluntarily handed over his stamp, in the presence of several witnesses.
Arnould further explained that the arrangement was that if he wanted to use the stamp then he would notify Dr Wijnendaele, who would validate its use, and that this was done on six occasions.
On each occasion the use of the stamp had been approved by Dr Wijnendaele over the phone, he said.
Arnould submitted that his use of the stamp could not be regarded as fraud as he had been given specific permission to use it by Dr Wijnendaele.
Furthermore, because all the horses concerned were in fact vaccinated, there was no maltreatment of the horses or fraud.
Dr Wijnendaele told the tribunal that he did not know what happened to his professional stamps, and after he left Belgium they were invalid and of no use. He therefore had no reason to think of where they might have gone.
Dr Wijnendaele said he had not given his stamps to anybody and had never given his permission to Arnould, or anybody else, to use them.
The tribunal said it was satisfied that the FEI had established that Arnould used Dr Wijnendaele’s veterinary stamp to fill horse passports to indicate they had been vaccinated.
“There is no dispute over whether or not (Arnould) is a veterinarian; he is not,” the tribunal said.
“Therefore, he had no legitimate use for Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp, regardless of whether or not he had been given permission to do so, which he alleges and Dr Wijnendaele denies.
“The tribunal considers that whether or not he was given permission has no bearing on establishing whether the respondent (Arnould) falsified FEI horse passports.
“He clearly did so and, in any event, no valid permission could have been given for him to use the stamp.”
The tribunal noted the high profile of Arnould and his positions of leadership and responsibility in the sport. The visibility and impact of his conduct therefore raised the issue of whether he brought the sport into disrepute.
“This has had a bearing on the sanctions imposed as behaviour which is both fraudulent and undermines confidence in the systems established by the FEI to keep horses safe is serious, especially coming from a senior figure in the sport.”
The tribunal said it found Arnould’s legal strategy of repeatedly questioning the legitimacy and objectivity of the tribunal very strange, particularly in light of his longstanding involvement in the sport and the fact that he admitted at a relatively early stage in the proceedings that he had used Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp.
It said it agreed with the FEI that Arnould’s role as a leader in the sport meant he was held to a higher standard of behaviour. The tribunal said it also believed his service to the sport was relevant in imposing sanctions.
Arnould was clearly held in high regard by members of his national federation, and had used the stamp only rarely.
“The tribunal is comfortably satisfied that the respondent used Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp, adding a forged signature to falsify FEI horses’ passports and this undoubtedly amounted to fraud and brought the FEI and/or equestrian sport into disrepute.
“The tribunal finds that there is no other credible explanation of the facts than that the entries in the FEI horse passports submitted by the FEI were made by the respondent to fraudulently claim the horses had received vaccinations from an FEI veterinarian when they, in fact, had not.”
The tribunal imposed the 20-month suspension, the fine, and costs.
Arnould is barred for the period of his suspension from participating in or attending any competition or event authorised or organised by the FEI or any national federation.
The full decision notice can be found here.