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Astana Qazaqstan’s paying agent under judicial investigation as delays hit latest wages

The team decline to comment as to whether Vinokourov is involved in the case as fresh delays on rider's wages surface.

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Reports from both Kazakhstan and Luxembourg have confirmed that the public prosecutor’s office in Luxembourg has opened a case involving Astana Qazaqstan’s paying agent and license holder, Abacanto SA. The case stems from an earlier civil action and is now being presided over by an investigating judge.

Astana Qazaqstan declined to comment on the matter, specifically around any possible links between the investigation and team manager Alexandre Vinokourov. However, reports in Kazakhstan indicate that the former rider is part of the investigation and that he is named in the related document.

Last week VeloNews revealed that the team’s riders had not been paid their January wages, and while that delay has now been rectified, with that month’s wages appearing in riders’ bank accounts Monday, there is still no sign of February’s installments, according to a source close to the situation.

However, of perhaps greater importance is the report that first surfaced last week on www.kp.kz.

According to the website, a case was opened in January 2021 against Astana’s paying agent Abacanto SA. This is entirely unrelated to the delay of wages but VeloNews understands that the instigation of the case, and its possible ties to the management of the team, was part of the reason why Premier Tech decided to step away from their sponsorship duties in 2021. Vinokourov was briefly fired by the team last year before later being reinstated.

According to the report in KP.KZ, Abacanto SA is charged with violations under article 140 of the local criminal code. These include allegations of the forgery of documents, misuse of corporate assets, breach of trust, money laundering, and fraud. Contact details for Abacanto SA currently point to Astana Qazaqstan and vice versa.

Abacanto SA is a publicly listed company based in Luxembourg. In 2020 Cycling Weekly reported that the men’s WorldTour team had been “hanging on a Luxembourg company called Abacanto SA for the past 10 years.”

The financial information site North Data states that the purpose of Abacanto SA, “is the representation of athletes as well as the organization and management of sporting events. The company may carry out any commercial, financial or industrial, movable, and immovable activities, directly or indirectly related to its purpose. The company may set up branches and subsidiary companies abroad and participate in other companies abroad.”

VeloNews contacted the public prosecutor’s office in Luxembourg. It would not confirm the current status of the case or if any of the team’s management was currently part of their investigation.

“The public prosecutor’s office in Luxembourg confirms that a judicial investigation has been opened following a complaint with civil action lodged for facts that were allegedly committed within the framework of the Luxembourg company ABACANTO S.A. and are likely to constitute offenses,” Henri Eippers, a former RTL journalist who is now a Judicial Administration spokesperson, told VeloNews.

“In view of the ongoing investigation, the public prosecutor’s office does not intend to provide any further information on this case.”

Astana Qazaqstan was contacted twice by VeloNews over several days. Their first response – when it was presented to them that both the paying agent and Vinokourov were tied to the investigation – was of surprise, while their second reply on Tuesday was a simple “we won’t comment.”

Where the case currently sits is unclear at this stage but if charges are brought against individuals then possible jail time could be involved, according to Luxembourg law. Cases of this nature can last well over twelve months, and in this situation, while the public prosecutor’s office would not comment, VeloNews understands that an investigating judge is currently working on the case.

From that point, the judge would file their findings with the Luxembourg state prosecutor, and they would decide if the case would go to a trial.