French cheating case: sanctions suspended, Feller and Hauchard can play again

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A Versailles court has suspended the French Chess Federation's disciplinary sanctions against Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard, due to a formal defect. The two grandmasters are allowed to play official chess games again, pending a ruling in a trial court on the merits of the case.The French cheating case seemed to have reached a 'case closed' status, but last Wednesday another chapter was added. The Court of Appeal in Versailles ruled that the disciplinary sanctions against Feller and Hauchard should be suspended until a trial court has ruled on the validity of the case. At the end of May, the players had decided to appeal against the decision of the court in Versailles to dismiss their emergency procedure. According to Europe-Echecs they argued that their suspension exposed them to substantial damage to their careers (and therefore created a prejudice), and that the procedure contained errors. As it turned out, they won this appeal, and regained their 'licence to play'. In January of this year, in a communiqué on its website, the French Chess Federation accused GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo of cheating. There were suspicions of “organized cheating, serious breach of ethics in sport and undermining the image of the Olympic national team during the Chess Olympiad that took place in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia), September 21 to October 3, 2010." They had already started an investigation. On March 19, 2011, the Disciplinary Committee of the French Chess Federation declared Feller, Marzolo and Hauchard “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics”. The three were accused of using computer assistance through SMS text messaging during the games - news that reached international mainstream media. Marzolo was sentenced to a 5-year suspension from play. Feller received a 3-year ban followed by 2 years of community service with the federation or another association. If he refused, the 2 years would be added to the suspension period. Hauchard was condemned to a lifetime ban from the duties of captain. The players decided to appeal, but this didn't have the desired result. On May 19, 2011, the Appeal Committee of the federation increased Feller’s ban to 5 years and a 3-year ban as a player was added to Arnaud Hauchard’s life ban as a captain or team manager. This was possible because not only the players, but also the French Chess Federation itself had appealed the first verdict in March. Feller and Hauchard decided to continue the fight (Marzolo didn't) and took the case to an even higher body: the French National Sports and Olympics Committee. However, on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 this committee advised them to stick to the decision of the federation's Appeal Committee. Then, on the first day of the French Team Championship, the players started an emergency procedure at the court in Versailles, hoping to suspend the decision of the Appeal Committee, so that they would still be able to play for their team. On May 27, 2011, the judge in Versailles dismissed their application, but Hauchard and Feller appealed. The two grandmasters won this appeal. The judge of the Versailles Appeal Court had a close look at all the regulations of the French Chess Federation, and found a formal defect. As said before, the federation itself had appealed the first verdict in March. However, it was the Executive Board who appealed the decision, and according to the judge it should have been the federation's Ethical and Disciplinary Action Commission. The board wasn't the qualified authority, and therefore the Appeal Commission's decision was declared illegal. On its website, the French Chess Federation writes that it 'takes note of the decision'. They're

'surprised that the federal statute could be interpreted in this way, the legislature certainly did not want to give all powers to the CADE [the Ethical and Disciplinary Action Commission - CV], to the detriment of the prosecution.'

The French Chess Federation also announced that it will continue to demonstrate the validity of their approach in French court but also with the FIDE Ethics Commission, which has already been informed of the case. The federation stresses that their actions are

intended primarily to fight against the development of all forms of cheating by electronic means, which (...) represents a serious danger to the future of chess.

As their appeal was granted by the Versailles Appeal Court, the two players can compete again. They're allowed to play in the national championship which takes place in August. Feller has also qualified for the FIDE World Cup later that month, so it remains to be seen how the FIDE Ethics Commmission will deal with the latest developments. Marzolo, who had not appealed, remains suspended. It's still possible that a trial court will rule a reinforcement of the disciplinary sanctions against Feller and Hauchard. However, in the mean time the French Chess Federation has a new President, who said to have "no emotional involvement" in the case. It remains to be seen whether the federation will start a trial court case, or try to settle with the players.

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