In the latest extraordinary twist in the increasingly bitter FIA election campaign, outgoing president Max Mosley has been threatened with legal action by candidate Ari Vatanen for what the Finn claims to be 'a defamatory statement' made against him and a lack of neutrality in the process 'aimed at distorting the results'.

Earlier this month, Mosley wrote a damning letter to HRH Prince Feisal of Jordan, one of Vatanen's vice-presidential nominees, in which he warned the 1981 World Rally Champion that he would 'lose and lose badly' for having chosen to 'denigrate the FIA and those currently in office rather than run a constructive and civilised campaign', and seemingly menaced any member clubs that pledge their allegiance to the Finn with marginalisation under rival candidate Jean Todt's rule should the Frenchman get in.

Mosley has, indeed, been far from shy in his public backing of the controversial and divisive erstwhile Ferrari team principal - and now, Vatanen contends, the Englishman has gone just a step too far. Only eight days away from the election on 23 October, a huissier de justice delivered a letter to the FIA headquarters in Paris in which the former MEP accuses Mosley of breaching 'the principle of neutrality' - a crime that is punishable in French law.

'The F?d?ration Internationale de l'Automobile is a non-profit organisation and is governed by French law,' Vatanen wrote in the letter, understood to have been drafted in conjunction with a French attorney and seen by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. 'Pursuant to French law, the operation of non-profit organisations is governed by legal principles.

'The breach of this principle of neutrality during election campaigns, when aimed at distorting the results of the election, is punishable by all of the French courts. I reserve all right to take action on account of the act previously committed against me.'

Mosley, however, stringently denies any such allegations of improper interference, claiming that Vatanen is a hypocrite in asserting that the 57-year-old personally requested his support himself during a private lunch meeting on 3 July. The Telegraph reports that the ten-time world rally-winner was 'marched' from Mosley's offices on Tuesday when he endeavoured to discuss the electoral process.

There have also been leaked e-mails revealing that senior members of both the FIA and FIA Foundation - an independent charity financed in large part by the sport's governing body - have been lobbying on Todt's behalf. The Foundation has vowed to 'address these issues' at its next meeting of the Board of Trustees, on which both presidential candidates sit - whilst the FIA insists that it has done nothing in contravention with the law.

"We are aware that people are campaigning on behalf of both candidates," a spokesman acknowledged, "but the election is being conducted in accordance with FIA statutes and with the law. Nothing we have seen has contradicted that."

"Trustees may not be aware that I am employed by the Foundation for four days a week," added FIA Foundation director general David Ward. "In my spare time, on a voluntary basis I have been helping Jean Todt to develop his candidacy policy agenda and providing advice to his campaign but not taking any public position. My assistance has not involved use of the Foundation resources."

Todt, for his part, has gone on the offensive in claiming that Vatanen has been resorting to 'dirty' tactics in his bid to seize control of the most powerful and influential post in international motor racing, by making 'false allegations' and launching 'personal attacks' [see separate story - click here]. His adversary, however, is adamant that he is the one who is playing fair.

"Many people have contacted me and asked what it means when others are accusing my campaign of being dirty," Vatanen responded. "My answer is very simple - if I speak about change, democracy and transparency, it seems to be wrong and it is taken as a personal insult against all the people who have been involved with the FIA before these elections. It can be seen as old school election tactics, but it is still amazing."


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