By Brian Homewood
GENEVA (Reuters) - An independent commission began delving into cycling's murky past on Tuesday, offering reduced sanctions for doping offenders who come forward with information.
"The lesson we can learn from the last few years is the truth will come out eventually," International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson told reporters.
"My message to any rider involved in doping is that now is the time to come forward (and) tell the commission everything you know because it will come out sooner or later, maybe as a result of somebody's testimony to the commission.
"It's in your interests if you have got something to hide to come and tell all the truth, not just some of the truth."
The three-man body, known as the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), was created in January to investigate the sport's recent past including suggestions the UCI was involved in previous wrongdoing.
"The commission will investigate allegations the UCI was in some way complicit or in some way colluded in covering up some of the problems," said Cookson, elected in September after a bitter campaign against previous incumbent Pat McQuaid.
CIRC chairman Dick Marty said the main aim was to avoid future scandals in the doping-plagued sport which reached a low when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins.
"The primary purpose is not to punish doping offenders but to learn from the past so we can help ensure a better future for cycling," he explained.
The investigation will end with a report illustrating the causes for the doping practices that took place between 1998-2013.
Marty said investigators could propose reduced sanctions to any riders, officials, agents and staff who came forward with "substantial information".
If the information is of "great importance", the commission could propose further reductions or even a "zero sanction", added Marty, a senior Swiss politician and former state prosecutor.
"We will treat all witnesses fairly and I urge anyone in the cycling community with information that can help our investigation to come forward," he said.
Marty said the offer was generally limited to license holders who were not currently suspended or facing disciplinary action.
However, riders and officials who are currently banned could be considered on a case-by-case basis for a reduction in their sanctions if they provided valuable evidence.
"This is a very, very important day for the UCI and for the sport of cycling," said Cookson.
"We have put aside a very substantial amount of money from the UCI's reserves to do this, we have appointed a genuinely independent commission with three people of the highest levels of integrity.
"It's not just important we analyze what went on in the past but that we learn some lessons for the future to stop the sport making the same mistakes again."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez) nL3N0LG3PG