Grenoble (France) (AFP) - French police have opened a criminal probe into the alleged theft of medical records related to Michael Schumacher's treatment after a ski crash in December.
Grenoble prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat told AFP the investigation was launched on Friday following a complaint from the hospital where the former Formula One world champion was treated for months after the December crash.
"For now nothing is certain in this case," he said.
"The perpetrator or perpetrators of the theft contacted some French, Swiss and German journalists. An individual, communicating by email, is asking for 60,000 Swiss francs (49,000 euros, $67,000) to provide a document of several dozen pages that summarises everything that happened at Grenoble during Schumacher's hospitalisation," Coquillat said.
He said parts of the document were provided by email to prove it was legitimate. The document did not appear in Schumacher's final medical report and was likely to have been a draft which had been left in a hospital bin, according to the prosecutor.
A source close to the investigation said the document appeared to be a summary written by Schumacher's doctor for his transfer to Switzerland this month after emerging from a coma.
Police were tracing who had access to the document and the hospital was checking its computer system to see if it may have been hacked, sources said.
The ex-Formula One star's management said Monday that the documents had been stolen and were being offered for sale.
His spokeswoman Sabine Kehm warned that the documents were confidential and promised to sue any publication that releases the medical records.
- 'Unacceptable behaviour' -
There have been several breaches of privacy during Schumacher's recovery, including a German journalist disguised as a priest who tried to access the driver's ward.
German reporters told AFP that they were offered money for photos of an unconscious Schumacher inside the hospital. These photos have never been published.
The hospital had however taken strict measures to protect Schumacher's records by forbidding its staff to access his medical file via the internal computer system and disguising the paper version with several aliases, the last of which was "Jeremy Martin".
The alleged theft was exposed by reporters from the mass-circulation German daily Bild, who informed Kehm they had been approached by an individual claiming to have the driver's medical documents, which were then forwarded to the Schumacher camp.
Coquillat said he was relying on journalists to aid the investigation.
"If journalists wanted to help the justice system in the spirit of cooperation against this type of thug, the justice system would not refuse their help," he said.
Schumacher had been treated since December 29 in the French Alpine city of Grenoble after he slammed his head against a rock while skiing with his son and friends.
The racing star underwent two operations to remove life-threatening blood clots after the freak accident that shocked the world, before being plunged into a medically induced coma.
The 45-year-old is undergoing further treatment at a hospital in the Swiss city of Lausanne.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]