[SINGAPORE] This year's Formula One race in Singapore could see more than its fair share of excitement - not all of it welcome.
There's talk that two former Renault team principals could possibly be extradited to Singapore to be charged for their part in fixing the outcome of last year's Grand Prix here.
If so, the resulting media attention and the possibility of a long trial would draw more attention to the disrepute that's already currently associated with this race - an outcome which can't bode well for this year's race, which is already seeing less interest than last year's, due to the dismal economic climate.
The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds - who resigned, as the team announced that it would not contest charges of fixing the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix - could face legal repercussions in Singapore.
It said Singapore could possibly request the extradition of the pair and charge them on extradition crimes, related to their involvement in last year's race.
When asked, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Trade & Industry S Iswaran said yesterday that he had not heard any indication that Singapore was seeking the extradition of the former Renault team principals. But lawyers whom BT spoke to say an extradition is a possibility.
Briatore and Symonds have been accused by former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr of asking him to crash in last year's inaugural F1 race in Singapore - in order to help his team mate and double world champion Fernando Alonso win the race, which the latter eventually did.
Briatore and Symonds are due to go before the FIA's World Motor Sport Council in Paris next Monday. The FIA (the world governing body for Formula One) could impose sanctions and other penalties on Renault, including excluding the team from the championship, if it finds the team guilty.
And, now, there's the possibility that Briatore and Symonds could face criminal charges in Singapore too.
Lawyers whom BT spoke to say it is possible the pair could be extradited and charged here for their alleged attempts to fix the race, but that it would depend on two key points.
"One, are they based in countries with which Singapore has an extradition treaty? And, two, is what they've done considered an extraditable offence?" says lawyer Nicholas Narayanan, who runs his own practice.
Briatore is reported to be an Italian citizen, while Symonds is a British citizen. Singapore has an extradition treaty with the UK, but not with Italy.
As for whether the pair could be accused of an extraditable crime, lawyers point to the list of offences in the Extradition Act in Singapore.
Mr Narayanan says Briatore and Symonds, if they did ask Piquet Jr to intentionally crash his car, could arguably be considered guilty of the following offences cited in the Act:
Malicious or wilful damage to property; Acts done with the intention of endangering vehicles, vessels or aircraft; or Criminal conspiracy to commit a serious crime, where the serious crime is transnational in nature and involves an organised criminal group.
Another lawyer - who has advised on extradition issues, but asked not to be named - felt, however, that it would be "a stretch" to say that Briatore and Symonds committed the aforementioned extraditable offences, even if they had instructed Piquet Jr to crash his car, and that it would be correspondingly difficult to extradite them to Singapore on such grounds.
Also, even if Briatore and Symonds could arguably be considered to have committed an extraditable offence, it would be up to Singapore to decide if it even wants to have the pair brought here and charged.
Observers have said that Singapore is unlikely to make such a move, given the negative publicity it would throw up.
Mr Iswaran also said that "this is a matter between the FIA and the teams".
"We are a host. Our job is to make sure we put on a good show so that the visitors enjoy themselves, have an eventful experience. In that regard, we did a good job last year and that's our target again this year.
"As for the matters pending before the FIA in terms of Renault, that's really between the FIA, the teams and FOM (Formula One Management)," he added.