Alonso questioned by Italian Police
Is the end of “Stepneygate” imminent?
The Italian news agency ANSA is reporting that Italian prosecutors have questioned Fernando Alonso, the current Formula One champion, about the theft by members of the McLaren racing team of documents and data belonging to Ferrari. According to ANSA, prosecutors stated that Alonso is not himself under investigation, but is considered to have information germane to the investigation.
The published reports did not disclose the nature of the information about which Alonso was questioned. He has previously, however, acknowledged to the FIA that he participated in using some of the stolen information in the development of the McLaren Formula One car.
That the Italian prosecutors have questioned Alonso suggests a certain seriousness of purpose. It seems unlikely that they would have learned anything from him that had not already been disclosed to the FIA, and it seems equally likely that the Italian prosecutors have at least as much information as does the FIA. For that reason, the interview of Alonso seems more intended to get him on record than to extract new information.
This could be a sign that the Italian prosecutors have passed the investigative stage and are now preparing their case, in anticipation of lodging formal charges. If so, there can be no doubt that Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan are likely targets.
But does the interview of Alonso imply that the Italian authorities are going to cut out the bigger figures in the case, Ron Dennis in particular?
There is reason to believe that’s exactly what it means.
An attempt to bring figures higher up in the McLaren organization into the case certainly would make the case both more complex and weaker. Coughlan and Stepney were directly involved. Even knowledge by others that they were committing a crime does not make those other individuals participants in the crime, by itself. Plus, of course, there’s the territorial problem: the thefts occurred in Italy. But whomever made use of the material after it passed through Coughlan’s hands was entirely in Great Britain. Absent proof that someone else induced Coughlan to participate, it could be very difficult to prove that an Italian crime was committed, even if some crime was committed somewhere.
Bet on the Italian prosecutors taking the low fruit and moving on. The public and political impetus to go after others has clearly diminished since the FIA’s decision to fine McLaren $100 million and kick them out of the Constructor’s Championship.
Certainly, limiting the prosecution to Coughlan and Stepney would please the FIA and one can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t part of the motivation for the massive fine levied against McLaren, as well as that team’s decision to forgo an appeal.