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McLaren charged with spying

Published: 7:26AM Friday July 13, 2007 Source: Reuters

Formula One's 'spy saga' took on new momentum on Friday when the governing body charged McLaren with unauthorised possession of confidential Ferrari information.

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) said in a statement that representatives of the team had been asked to appear before an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris on July 26.

The FIA charged that between March and July the championship leaders had "unauthorised possession of documents and confidential information belonging to Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro".

The March date is earlier than had previously been suspected, raising a question mark over the entire first half of the season.

The statement added that the information included data that could have been "used to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car".

The FIA referred specifically to article 151c of the International Sporting Code, which refers to "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally".

If McLaren are found guilty, possible sanctions range from a reprimand to disqualification.

The team, with Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso and Britain's Lewis Hamilton, are 25 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors' championship after nine races.

The FIA announcement followed an investigation by the governing body after Ferrari revealed that a quantity of their information had been found at the home of a senior McLaren technical employee.

McLaren last week suspended chief designer Mike Coughlan, formally named with his wife Trudy in a High Court hearing on Wednesday.

McLaren issued a statement saying they were 'extremely disappointed" with the FIA charge.

"Whilst McLaren wishes to continue its full co-operation with any investigation into this matter, it does wish to make it very clear that the documents and confidential information were only in the possession of one currently suspended employee on an unauthorised basis," the team said.

"No element of it has been used in relation to McLaren's Formula One cars."

Ferrari are also taking legal action in Italy against their former engineer Nigel Stepney, who has denied sending the information to Coughlan.

The two, former colleagues at Benetton and Ferrari, were linked last week when Honda said they had approached team boss Nick Fry about job opportunities.

The next race, at the Nuerburgring in Germany on July 22, is a home grand prix for McLaren's engine partners Mercedes.

The controversy has cast a cloud of uncertainty over one of the most enthralling championships of recent years, with Hamilton emerging as a rookie sensation in a four-man battle for the title.

One London bookmaker announced after the FIA move that it was temporarily suspending bets on the outcome of both championships.