Rumsas refuses return to France

  • 2002-08-08
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

Raimondas Rumsas, the Lithuanian cyclist at the center of a Tour de France scandal, is refusing to return to France for fear he will be arrested and has hired a famous French lawyer to defend him and his wife, who was detained last week on suspicion of carrying illegal doping products.

Meanwhile there is outrage in Lithuania at what many see as bullying by the tour's hosts.

Rumsas' wife, Edita Rumsiene, was arrested on the last day of the Tour de France after police found a collection of performance-enhancing drugs in her car and has been held in custody ever since.

Both Rumsiene and her husband, who was the surprise third place winner at the race, have denied any wrongdoing and said the drugs were intended for Rusmsiene's mother.

Rumsas has remained at his home in Italy and hired Jean-Marc Varaut, who defended former Vichy official Maurice Papon, convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in the pro-Nazi French regime during World War II.

"Our client wants to help his wife, avoid going to prison himself and continue his cycling career all at the same time," Varaut was quoted by Reuters as saying. "He saw that his wife was put in prison just for some customs offenses, even though possessing medications is not against the law," said Varaut.

"Since my right to be presumed innocent is under such attack, I prefer that French investigators question me on Italian soil, as early as this week," Rumsas said.

Although Rumsas has been suspended from his team, Lampare, cycling officials have not yet stripped him of his third place trophy.

The cyclist had originally planned to return to help defend his wife, but French officials would not let him testify as an "assisted" witness, which would have allowed him to have his lawyer with him and would likely mean he would not be jailed after his appearance on the witness stand.

Varaut stressed that Rumsiene has always denied giving doping substances to her husband - a claim investigators would have to disprove as Rumsas' doping tests all turned out negative.

Varaut said he had filed a request to free Rumsiene from the jail where she is being held at Bonneville in the French Alps on August 6.

Rumsiene faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros if she is found guilty of providing and administering doping products during the Tour de France.

Tour de France organizers have asked Rumsas to come to Switzerland for one more doping test on Aug. 15, while the Lithuanian Olympic Committee is organizing another independent doping test for Rumsas somewhere in Scandinavia.

Rumsas has said he is ready to take both tests.

Lithuania's Ambassador to France Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskie-ne met with Rumsiene last week for an hour at the Bonneville prison but did not speak to reporters afterward.

Lithuanian media have roundly criticized Frances' handling of the case.

Rimvydas Valatka, deputy editor of the Lietuvos Rytas daily, emphasized that the investigators' attempts to prize a confession from Rumsas had not worked.

"They expected that Rumsiene would start implicating her husband - such is the imagination of French prosecutors about women from post-communist countries," said Valatka.

But Rasa Polikeviciute, winner of the women's world cycling championship in 2001, acknowledged that doping plays a major role in the men's sport.

"It is impossible to achieve higher than 60th place in men's cycling without doping," she said. "I think that everybody in men's cycling, including Lance Armstrong, is using doping products, and it is a pity that Rumsas was involved in this scandal," she was quoted by the Lietuvos Zinios newspaper as saying.