BRUSSELS (AP) — Five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx, considered by many the greatest cyclist of all time, will be charged Wednesday in a Belgian corruption case linked to irregular purchases of equipment by Brussels-area police and municipalities, a Brussels prosecutor said.
The prosecutor, who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements, said Merckx is accused of corruption and the use of false documents in the sale of 46 bicycles by his then-company Cycles Eddy Merckx to police in southern Brussels in 2006-07.
The contract, worth an estimated 15,000 euros ($16,700), was allegedly obtained after a policeman furnished Merckx with inside information. Merckx allegedly rewarded the officer by selling him a carbon-fiber bicycle at a low price and giving a bicycle to the man's wife.
If found guilty of the charges against him, the prosecutor said, Merckx could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. He said such a heavy sentence was unlikely for a person many Belgians consider their country's greatest hero.
Twelve others, including two former high-ranking police officers, are also charged in the case.
"What Merckx is accused of is really small potatoes compared to some of the others," the prosecutor said. Some of the irregular procurements involved Toyota vehicles and security cameras, according to published accounts.
Merckx, 70, could not immediately be reached for comment, but was quoted by the Belgian daily newspaper Derniere Heure as saying, "I have nothing to say. We'll see what happens."
After the criminal charges are confirmed by the Brussels prosecutor's office, a panel of judges will decide whether the case should proceed to trial. The panel is expected to consider the case in early September, the prosecutor said.