Court reduces length of suspension against Endurance figure, but fine upheld

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Belgian Endurance figure Pierre Arnould appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against an FEI Tribunal decision.
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A prominent figure in the Endurance community has had his suspension reduced in his appeal against an FEI Tribunal decision that found he had falsified FEI horse passports.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland reduced the length of Pierre Arnould’s suspension from 20 months to 14 months. It left in place the fine of 5000 Swiss francs, along with the tribunal order for a 7000 franc contribution toward legal costs.

The CAS said in its written decision that the FEI vaccination system was insufficiently robust and should be improved.

Arnould is a 61-year-old Belgian national who 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 Championship, 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 Wijnendaele had vaccinated horses when he had not done so.

Wijnendaele, a Belgian national, was registered as a veterinarian in Belgium until September 2005, when he moved abroad to practice and has not worked in Belgium since.

In April 2020, 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. 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 related to four horses, all trained by and in the care of Arnould at his stables in Belgium at the time of the purported vaccinations.

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.

The tribunal ruled in its decision last April that the case against Arnould had been proved, and imposed a fine and suspension.

Arnould subsequently appealed the tribunal decision to the CAS. He asked the court, comprising Romano Subiotto, Bernard Hanotiau and  Klaus Reichert, to declare null and void the decisions taken in violation of his rights or, alternatively, to reduce the fine and suspension.

He also sought to have the sanction removed that prevented him from attending national and international competitions as a spectator.

Arnould argued through his counsel that the tribunal sanctions were not proportionate to comparable decisions. He said the tribunal decision violated his right to a defence. The tribunal is considered as not being impartial, he argued. Its hearing, he asserted, should have been held in French.

Further, Arnould argued that the tribunal decision failed to address any of his legal arguments and merely recounted the facts without assessing their veracity.

The FEI asked that the appeal be dismissed. It argued that Arnould had offered no defence to the charges, asserting it was not even in dispute that he knowingly and deliberately falsified the FEI passports.

It said there were no procedural irregularities with the proceedings before the FEI Tribunal.

The court commented: “The main issue to be resolved by the panel is whether the sanction and fine imposed on Mr Pierre Arnould are proportionate.

“Indeed, the appellant does not deny he knowingly and deliberately falsified the FEI passports, but claims that the sanction is not proportionate in comparison to similar facts before the CAS or the FEI Tribunal.”

The court said that several mitigating factors needed to be taken into account in determining the length of suspension, including that it was Arnould’s first violation of the FEI rules.

Arnould admitted since the beginning of the procedure that he knowingly and deliberately falsified the FEI passports, but said that the horses had in fact been vaccinated. Arnould had explained at the oral hearing that he indeed used Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp where the horses were vaccinated in their owners’ stables while their FEI passports were in possession of Arnould, or vice-versa.

Thus, while the horses were vaccinated, their FEI passport could not be updated by the veterinarian who performed the vaccination. In these cases, Arnould, while checking the horses’ FEI passports before competitions, used Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp. When the FEI passport was not up-to-date, he would call the owner and check whether the horse had been vaccinated during his resting time. If so, he would fill in the FEI passport using Dr Wijnendaele’s stamp, and would inform him.

The court said, in its view, the FEI vaccination system as it currently exists is insufficiently robust, and should be improved to make it more reliable.

“For example, the FEI could impose the use of the vaccination stickers in the horses’ passports, in addition to the stamp and signature of the veterinarian.

“This would also allow a better tracking of the vaccination of horses and would make the veterinary checks at competition more reliable.

“This system could also be modernized by computerizing it. For example, the information relating to the horse vaccination, could be included directly in the horse’s microchip. This would ensure that the horses are properly vaccinated and that the vaccination is performed by competent veterinarians, as the panel understands that only veterinarians have access to this register.”

The court said it was comfortably satisfied that Dr Wijnendaele voluntarily left his stamp with Arnould, as they were good friends at the time.

It ruled that Arnould’s suspension should be reduced to 14 months, which it considered struck a balance between the mitigating factors and Arnould’s use of a third party’s stamp in violation of applicable rules.

It also set aside the ban on attending events from the expiry of the reduced suspension.

The court left the tribunal fine and contribution to the costs of the tribunal proceedings in place.

The CAS decision can be read here.

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