Some evidence finally came out in the French Federation cheating scandal. The texts were declared inadmissible in court, but the Federation had them and, if they say what they say they say, the gun isn't smoking, it has burst into flames. Guy with computer offsite sends moves by sms to accomplice. Accomplice signals move to player by standing behind different boards in sequence. Clever and pretty efficient without having to train with a set of hand signals or eyebrow maneuvers. Why cell phones were allowed in the hall is the real issue for the future, though with enough accomplices I suppose there could be a handoff outside the hall and the same method could work. So what's next, the players compete in a Thunderdome environment like the glass case in Bilbao so nobody enters or exits?
The punishments meted out were stiff enough, I think, at least since there isn't really much that can be done. The player in question, 20-year-old GM Sebastian Feller, "was sentenced to three years followed by two years of community service with the French Chess Federation or other association chosen by him (if he refuses he will receive an additional two-year suspension)." I guess this means a suspension from officially representing France, since there is no way I know of for his federation to prevent him from playing as much as he wants in other events. Even FIDE, which has blacklisted players before, would have trouble with that one, though they can take you off the rating list. What effect would that have on someone wanting to play at Aeroflot or the World Open? It would be useful as a deterrent if someone could be banned from pushing a pawn professionally for something like this, but the chess world is far to decentralized for that, which generally isn't a bad thing. But in this case, since it was all handled inside the French Fed, it probably means it's best from his professional standpoint for Feller to simply deny everything and hope he can keep his various pro team positions, if they will have him.
None of the involved have openly admitted guilt, from what I can tell. Hauchard, the team coach who was the alleged accomplice at the Olympiad, reportedly admitted to others there was cheating there, whatever that means. Certainly the French Federation, which hasn't handled this too cleverly PR-wise, has no motivation to make up an intricate cheating plot by one of their top young players and the coach of the national team. I wouldn't expect them to release the damning texts to the public even if they could, but I'm glad they finally explained how they could be so certain. Text messages to the coach that follow the moves of the game is about as certain as you can get without a full confession. (The ChessBase article adds the distracting "they analyzed the games with an engine" graf, which is annoying. Statistical move matching can be dangerously arbitrary even when properly controlled.)
Will FIDE weigh in on this at all? Will Bartel Mateusz get Feller's board five gold medal from Khanty-Mansiysk? (And the extra 2000 euros?) Would that also mean striking all of Feller's points and changing the team results of the Olympiad? Feller's wins provided the margin of victory in three consecutive rounds, 7-9, against Spain, Russia 2, and Georgia, as well as drawing the match with England. I'm sure FIDE will do everything it can to keep the lid on that can of worms.
In sum, it's a bombshell piece of news, proof that cheating has occurred at the top level. Should we just hope that nobody tries it again? Or assume that the would-be cheaters of the future won't be dumb enough to let a federation official have access to their SMS transcripts? Seriously, they were caught only thanks to dumbness and dumb luck. Kudos to the French Federation for not sweeping this under the carpet. Sadly, I doubt many other federations would have been so scrupulous.