SAN DIEGO — New Zealand sailor Matt Mitchell has filed complaints of gross misconduct against the five members of an international jury that assessed the harshest penalties in America's Cup history, alleging “a trail of conspiratorial ineptitude that is hard to refute.”
Mitchell's filing Wednesday with the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) is the latest fallout from one of the biggest scandals in the cup's 164-year history.
It comes less than two weeks after Mitchell asked ISAF to investigate former Oracle Team USA teammate Simeon Tienpont for breaking a racing rule and lying during a hearing prior to the 2013 America's Cup on San Francisco Bay.
After investigating the illegal modifying of catamarans Oracle sailed in warmup regattas, the jury docked the syndicate two points in the match against Emirates Team New Zealand, tossed sailor Dirk de Ridder from the regatta and suspended Mitchell, a backup grinder, for the first four races. Oracle rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win the final eight races and retain the Auld Mug.
Mitchell says he was punished because Tienpont lied to the jury.
Now Mitchell is going after the jury, saying the investigation and hearings were conducted in a clandestine manner. Jury member Graham McKenzie of New Zealand faces a further allegation of witness tampering by acting in an intimidating and-or threatening manner.
ISAF executives will have to decide if Mitchell's complaint merits an investigation.
Mitchell said he's not optimistic ISAF will act against the jurors, but that he wants to “expose the way they've behaved. They'll come up with 88 pages of why they don't have to do anything. But we have to sit here in 10 years' time and say, 'Look, we did everything we could,” he told The Associated Press by phone from Auckland.
Mitchell, 43, hasn't caught on with another team. He had been with Team Australia, but it folded in July.
Besides McKenzie, Mitchell also has filed complaints against Bryan Willis and John Doerr of Britain, David Tillett of Australia and Josje Hofland of the Netherlands.
In December, Mitchell sued Oracle Team USA for the $68,000 he spent on legal fees fighting the accusations against him. Oracle Team USA is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, who isn't named in the suit.
Paul Henderson, the former president of ISAF and a former member of the International Olympic Committee, also has filed complaints against all five jury members.
Mitchell's complaint says Willis and McKenzie chose not to bring charges against Tienpont despite having a signed admission from the Dutch sailor, and that the jury failed to share with the accused sailors the notes of a meeting between Willis and McKenzie, and Oracle Team USA general manager Grant Simmer and attorney Lee Ann La France, hired by the syndicate to conduct an internal investigation.
“That fuels the implication of collusion,” Mitchell said.
Two days after that meeting, Simmer was taken off the witness list.
De Ridder was later suspended by ISAF for five years, which was reduced to three years on appeal. The Dutch sailor appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced the suspension to 18 months. It was during that hearing last fall that two pieces of evidence surfaced that Mitchell is using to go after the jury.
McKenzie was a witness at the CAS hearing, and Mitchell testified by phone on de Ridder's behalf.
Less than two weeks before the CAS hearing, McKenzie emailed Mitchell and said, “This is the time for you to step forward and tell the whole truth, which you know never emerged in the Jury case in San Francisco. You got caught up in something that was never of your making.”
McKenzie mentioned speaking with Jon Napier, ISAF's in-house counsel, “and he commented that he was sure if you did come forward your pending proceedings before ISAF would be considered favorably.”
Citing tight time limits, McKenzie said ISAF wanted a signed statement within three days from Mitchell, whose case before ISAF's Disciplinary Commission was pending.
“He's trying to get something else going on,” Mitchell said. “That's the crime of it. That's the disgrace of it, that I spent the whole time trying to tell the truth and he intimates that there's another version. Well hang on, the last time I checked, that was blackmail.”
In an email to the AP, de Ridder said: “It is very hard to read McKenzie's email in any other way then blackmail.”
The notes of Willis and McKenzie's August 2013 meeting with Oracle officials didn't come to light until de Ridder's CAS hearing.
Mitchell was cleared by ISAF's Disciplinary Commission on Jan. 8. In April, independent lawyers appointed by Yachting New Zealand decided Mitchell shouldn't face further discipline. The lawyers also criticized the international jury for procedural shortcomings, using indirect evidence and asking leading questions.