Coughlan claims McLaren innocent, may face Italian charges
Mike Coughlan, the chief engineer at McLaren who was caught in possession of 780 pages of stolen and confidential Ferrari documents, has asserted that McLaren didn’t benefit from the information. In documents filed with a British court considering a civil lawsuit which Ferrari has filed against him, Coughlan asserted that he realized that “some at least” of the documents were “likely to comprise confidential information belonging to Ferrari.” Ferrari apparently believes that its former development director, Nigel Stepney, was behind the theft of the documents, as well as an attempted sabotage of its race cars at the Grand Prix of Monaco earlier this season.
Coughlan claims, however, that he had not “reviewed the Ferrari documents in their entirety or in any way which enabled any proper appreciation or assessment in engineering terms of their contents.” He claims the documents were “unsolicited” and that he looked at them “on only two or so intermittent occasions.” He also acknowledged that he informed Jonathan Neale, McLaren’s managing director, of the contents of e-mails sent to him by Nigel Stepney, the development director at Ferrari and the person Ferrari believes is responsible for passing the stolen documents to Coughlan. Coughlan also showed digital images from stolen Ferrari documents to Neale. Neale has admitted to the FIA that he saw the images, but maintains he didn’t know they had come from Ferrari.
The various submissions by Coughlan to the British court have not explained why, if he and McLaren were not using the stolen documents and didn’t intend to, they were kept by Coughlan at his home. The submissions also do not explain why McLaren kept secret the fact that these documents had been stolen, telling no one and directing Coughlan to destroy them.
In a related development, however, it is being reported that the Italian criminal investigation of Nigel Stepney which had been launched weeks ago is being expanded to include Coughlan. According to the Italian newspaper La Republica, the Italian magistrate conducting the inquiry will be extending its scope to include Coughlan and six other people, in addition to Stepney. In Italy, a magistrate conducts criminal investigations, somewhat analogously to a grand jury investigation in the United States.
Earlier this week, the FIA announced that it had “new evidence” concerning McLaren’s involvement in the theft of Ferrari documents and reopened the hearing into possible rules violations by McLaren. Initially, the FIA panel had determined that McLaren violated the sporting code rules, but imposed no penalty because it did not find that McLaren had derived any benefit from its possession of the stolen property. Reopening the inquiry has generally been regarded as indicating that the FIA now believes it has proof that McLaren did use the stolen information to its benefit.
As reported at this blog earlier, the FIA also has sent letters to each of the three McLaren drivers offering them amnesty in exchange for surrendering evidence which they may possess of McLaren’s complicity. The letters also indicated that failure to do so would result in severe sanctions against the driver, should it later be determined that the driver had failed to comply with the FIA request.
According to La Republica, the FIA’s recent actions are the result of information which has been developed in the Italian criminal investigation and passed along to it, either directly from the magistrate or indirectly through Ferrari. The information is believed to include the content of Stepney’s e-mails.