It has been almost nine months since the bridge world has been confronted with what seems to be the biggest scandal in its history. Among others, Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes – the number 1 and 2 players of the World Bridge Federation – have been accused of cheating. The uproar even goes beyond the game of bridge when well known magazines like Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker have written exensive articles about the alleged cheating. Accusations have been flying over the internet and investigative committees have been appointed by the European Bridge League, the American Contract Bridge League and the Italian Bridge Federation. The latter – the FIGB – has already forbidden Messrs. Fantoni and Nunes to play bridge during the next three years. Although accusations have been made everywhere, little has been heard from the defense. For this reason Jan van Cleeff has taken the opportunity on behalf of Neapolitan Club and Bridge Magazine IMP to interview Enrique Morera, a lawyer from Barcelona, Spain (http://www.bma-drl.com/) in order to hear the side of the accused.
Mr. Morera, can you please introduce yourself?
EM: My name is Enrique Morera. I am the coordinating lawyer of this case. I am also a bridge player for 40 years. I coordinate the team of lawyers in Madrid, Italy and the United States. The other lawyers are in USA and Italy. We communicate by phone and email and we will meet in person in Madrid in the next days.
How did you come across this case?
Fantoni approached me, because, as far as I know, I was recommended to him by a very good bridge player, Javier Massana. He phoned me one day asking me if I would be interested in taking his case. Our law firm is very familiar with sports law, because I have been in the board of Español soccer team as Legal Adviser.
Related to bridge, some years ago, on the occasion of a tournament, I organized an accusation by several players. I was not an injured party but I like so much this sport that I cannot stand cheating. The resolution condemned the accused players.
What is your specialism?
Our speciality is business law with enterprises and the majority of our lawyers have legal and economic training.
Are you defending both Mr. Fantoni and Mr. Nunes?
Yes, I represent both players together.
What do you plead? Are they guilty or not?
We choose our cases, we are lucky to be able to do that. In the acceptance of a case, and in many occasions, many aspects that are not exclusively economic are taken into account. We can do that because our income does not exclusively depend on this job. We love our profession and we were passionate about this case from the beginning, because of the total conviction of their innocence and the way in which the accusation has taken place. The internet phenomenon has brought situations where it is possible to dishonour and lynch someone from impunity.Honor is thin as a glass of crystal, breaks easily with or without reason. We are in this last case and our first aim is to restore our client’s reputation.
It does not stand even a five-minute analysis if someone pays attention with impartiality. This is the reason why I took the case. It is not a judicial challenge, it is a justice challenge. It is unbelievable, it is very easy to see that they are not guilty. I am very passionate about this, and in my whole career I have not seen a mess like this one. It is a total chaos and this is further shown by the WBF statement that online lynching is not allowed and it is forbidden to accuse someone unless via proper procedure. (WBF Statement »)
The FIGB recently published its verdict. Are you happy with the outcome?
I am happy with the verdict because it is so crazy that it will be obviously revoked later in the same FIGB or in other instances. The pressure of the situation can lead to this sort of verdict. For a person who loves law it is incredible to see something like this. It is not very relevant but it offers us an idea of how things evolve. My clients and the legal team knew the resolution after the media published it. (FIGB Sentence Highlights»)
Do you see juridical flaws?
It is not necessary to be an expert in law to see that somebody has condemned someone else without proof. Let me show you what happened in Italy. First of all the EBL received the accusation, based on a video, saying that someone cheated and that the code is 96% accurate. EBL started the procedure. It sets up an investigative committee and gave us a file produced by a third person, the EBL did not sign this.
In Italy, they took the same proof and they accused Fantoni and Nunes, referring to hands from the European Championships in Croatia and the World Championships in Bali. All proof is presented in a report written by Carlo Totaro, a bridge player from Italy. Mr. Totaro assumes in his report, without any evidence, a match between the code and the type of hands in 121 out of 127 hands. He didn’t say how he has come to this conclusion, he only gives it as a fact that there is this coincidence. He does not show any hands played in Bali. If you go to YouTube, the quality of the Bali videos is too low to actually see what is happening. All the accusation is based on the Croatia video by Michael Clarke.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKe7gLTfaF8).
The FIGB produced an unjust sentence because though we presented a complete but urgent (because a lack of time) file with resounding evidences, the FIGB rejected them and didn’t take them into account. Therefore, we will appeal. The FIGB verdict rejects all the proof that we presented, saying that the proof was presented too late. We presented it on the 17th of December. We asked Italy to wait for the EBL to finish their investigation. Initially Italy waited and postponed the hearing scheduled on the 19th of December to the 19th of March. A new postponement was requested while the EBL had not solved its proceeding. The FIGB, nevertheless the EBL has initiated the procedure first as it was its championship, surprisingly decided to go on with the hearing scheduled on the 19th March and even this, it also rejected all our evidences presented 4 months ago. Unprecedented. So we presented our evidence, but the FIGB then said in its sentence dated on 19 march 2016 and published it on 11th April 2016 that our proofs were too late. (FIGB Sentence Full Italian Text»)
The EBL does not understand what the FIGB is doing and why they did not wait. Additionally, how can you condemn someone without taking into account the proofs of the defense presented 4 months ago? They did not take into account the proofs of the innocence of my clients. It is more difficult to prove that you are innocent than to prove that you cheated, and yet we do it.
Totaro, before being addressed by the Procuratore Federale to make a report, wrote on Facebook that he was upset about how a previous case against Fantoni-Nunes was handled in Italy in June 2015. He said that it was not dealt with properly at the time, but that now it would be done better. This was said by the accusation’s expert before analyzing anything and based only on a video that we have demonstrated was manipulated, predetermining his report and with total lack of impartiality. Is it possible to condemn my clients in that way? Quite surprising.
I think FIGB are using Fantoni-Nunes to send a message to the bridge world because they are tired. I understand, by the attacks to the Italian players, that they want to be the first ones to condemn them before everyone does something. But certainly this must neither be the procedure nor the way to choose some scapegoats who have been condemned only on the web. We sincerely hope that the FIGB reconsiders its position.
Apperantly you are convinced that the FIGB did not write a good sentence. Do you think you have a fair chance in appeal?
We have 15 days to appeal and we will do so. The Italian lawyer is in charge of logging it. I cannot understand why they stopped the hearing in December asking us to wait until EBL finished its work. They rescheduled to the end of march, but at that point the EBL had not finished yet. We asked FIGB to just wait again, but this time they went ahead with the sentence.
Did you study the documents with the verdict?
The only proves are the video made without any control and the report written by Totaro. We presented very professional counter-evidences, analyzing hand by hand, the minutes of the video, the position of the cards and their distortion, a mathematical report, and all these evidences have not been accepted by the FIGB.
In consequence, none of the evidences used to condemn these players, have any credibility.The video because it was made without any control and it is manipulated; and Mr. Totaro’s report because he took a decision even before analyzing the evidences and counterevidences. When I say something in public giving you authorisation, believe me it is a fact, and not my opinion. All I say is facts. People accusing my clients provided a video that came off YouTube. First of all, the instigator of all this blackmailed my clients. We have phone conversations recorded and submitted those as proof. Consider what is happening in the background too: a public confession by two famous players [Piekarek and Smirnov; jvc], the German doctors and last but not least, Fisher and Schwartz. This was a big tsunami in bridge. Mind you, our case is completely separate from the others. I do not know their lawyers and neither me nor my clients have any kind of contact with them. In the end I believe in FIGB and EBL and that everything will be clarified and solved.
The accusation is based on these elements:
– The public is receptive to scandals. If I show a video saying that there is a code and that the code matches the hands, nobody will think that the video is manipulated. We have proofs that the video is manipulated and we have mentioned those.
– The existence of a supposed code. However, the code was constructed after seeing the tricks. Mr. Colombo, an expert mathematician, showed that you can construct at least 3 more codes with the same cards, with a high match rate and bridge sense. The guys who constructed the videos and the code did not take into account showing singletons or jacks, although these are important in bridge. You can construct many codes with the same cards. This means the code is not a good scientific basis when it is built from the observation of a few certain facts. It would be different to assume a code and then verify it in future events. In fact, they also excluded from the supposed code 30 cards to increase the percentage of fits.
The EBL sent us a file with all the hands. In the documents they gave us the match rate dropped to 90%. The calculation system used to calculate the match rate in the videos does not take into account ambiguous hands. But this is not rigorous, because ambiguous hands should be considered too. If we do that the coincidence rate drops to 83.9%. By being even more rigorous with the positioning of the cards and the distortion produced by filming, we arrive to 40.51% and 45.28% on the lead. We have to discard all instances where the lead is obvious and the continuation too. So, the original calculations are not correct and we prove it.
We have proves that a lot of times my clients play against the code. This does not occur in the majority of cases because the guy who designed the code made sure it fits the majority of the hands. The method he used is not correct. The calculation formula used to determine the number of fits (cards in line with a code) is ill-intentioned:
which lowers the percentage of fits dramatically as there are so many ambiguous cards. So in stead of 90+ percent fit the fit percentage drops to way under 50. Which proves, among other things, that the cards have been lead randomly and were not part of a code.
If you are convinced that the calculations are not correct, why are you afraid of EBL?
We are not afraid of anything. The problem is what the line of accusation is. They take it for granted that there are coincidences without showing why.
Is the defense assisted by bridge stars?
If we needed bridge experts, we would be in trouble because that means they profited in some hands. We provided all the hands played and we have studied them all with my clients, and we show that they were not advantaged.
Suppose that you win the case, are you going for compensation?
I am not worried about that, my clients will decide. I think the best compensation is to have their honour restored, that’s my worry now.
What about Fantoni Vacations, the bridge travel organization of Fulvio Fantoni?
A lot of people know Fulvio, he has a lot of friendly support, as Claudio. In addition, I think that this does not have any effect.
And Boye Brogeland, will you sue him like Fisher and Schwartz did?
The legal team will follow the instructions of its clients but when I sue someone, I do not say it in advance, I do not threat him, I just do it.
How is the relationship with Pierre Zimmermann?
I cannot talk about that, I do not know. But it is clear that the online lynching has succeeded for the time being.
Do you know if Fantoni and Nunes still live in Monaco?
I even don’t know if they still live in there.
Did you ever ask Fantoni and Nunes whether they cheated?
It was unnecessary for me to ask that. In a lawyer-client relationship trust is very important. Not only am I convinced that they are innocent, but I also have the proof of that.
What do you think your chances are?
In the end we will prevail, because they are innocent and we can prove it. The problem is time and the trial procedures. To arrive to the final verdict it sometimes takes a long time. We also have the so called ‘Occam’s razor’, which implies when you are in front of three or more different possible explanations to a problem, the simpler one is the right one. I never saw two guys like these playing bridge: their abilities are incredible. And then the most simple explanation is that they win because they are good.
Your final thougths?
The accusation is foolish. My business is to defend them showing that the accusation is madness and based on the Rosenthal effect: when you have a trial and some kind of scandal appears, people are more prepared to believe it. It is difficult to understand how this happens. Someone believes that they are guilty and they make a video. If something does not line up with the belief, it is not taken it into consideration (confirmation bias). If the code works well, it is shown, if it does not, it is taken it out.
Jan van Cleeff for Neapolitan Club and IMP Magazine