Documents obtained by NPR indicate the International Skating Union (ISU) has some doubt about a US Speedskating (USS) investigation of an incident involving sabotage of a rival athlete's skates.
The USS probe concluded last month with a report from investigators from the White and Case law firm in New York. The report recounted the allegations leveled by American short track speedskater Simon Cho, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, as he admitted deliberately sabotaging the skate blade of a Canadian rival during an international competition in Poland in 2011.
Cho accused American coach Jae Su Chun of ordering him to tamper with the Canadian's skates, and badgering him until he complied.
Chun has denied any role in the incident, which Cho first described in an interview with NPR. The White and Case report says Cho's account could not be confirmed.
While the report "sheds much light on facts important for the present case the crucial question whether [coach Chun] instructed [Cho] to tamper with the skates of the Canadian skater Olivier Jean remains unanswered," says Dr. Beatrice Pfister, a legal adviser to the ISU's Disciplinary Commission, in a letter to the Commission.
The White and Case investigation reported there wasn't "sufficient evidence to conclude that Coach Chun directed Simon Cho to tamper with the skate."
Pfister notes that as "...the White and Case report...correctly points out adversarial proceedings could generate a different conclusion."
Pfister blames the uncertainty on "contradictory statements" by Cho, Chun and another skater, Jeff Simon. Cho claims Simon was present when Chun allegedly ordered the tampering and told Simon to participate. Simon told investigators he did not witness the interaction between Cho and his coach.
Pfister calls for a hearing before the ISU Disciplinary Commission including testimony from Jeff Simon that "might produce a different result which could possibly prove important for the outcome of the present case."
Simon has yet to respond to NPR's request for comment. A representative for Chun says the former USS coach is preparing a response to the allegations before the ISU.
Coach Chun was suspended from official coaching by US Speedskating after he admitted knowing about the tampering incident but failing to report it. Still, he's coaching some American short track skaters privately. Others accused Chun of abusive behavior and White and Case reported that some athletes considered Chun's approach abusive while others did not.
An attorney for Cho says the USS investigation conducted by White and Case gave coach Chun "the benefit of the doubt" and seemed to defer to USS.
"What Simon [Cho] did was wrong. Nothing can change that or make it right," says John Wunderli, Cho's Salt Lake City attorney, in welcoming what he considers an independent review by the ISU.
"But overlooking the flaws in the investigatory process and reaching a decision based on the USS Report would be fundamentally unfair," Wunderli adds.
"There was no deference on the part of White and Case toward US Speedskating," says USS spokeswoman Tamara Castellano.
"We initiated the investigation," Castellano adds, "but at no time did they do anything in deference to us."
Pfister, the ISU legal adviser, also writes that the White and Case report "brought to light further violations of the ISU Code of Ethics" at the World Short Track Speedskating Team Championships in Warsaw in 2011.
That's a reference to allegations that Coach Chun told Canadian skater Jean, "I hope you lose," as Jean told NPR, and that Chun "encouraged his team to be 'obnoxious', 'disruptive' or 'destructive' against the Canadian team."
The ISU's consideration of the incident had been postponed pending the release of the White and Case report.
US Speedskating has called for disciplinary hearings to determine an appropriate punishment for Cho. A USS Appeals Panel has scheduled a hearing for April 23.
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