SII Focus 31st January 2017

Coe ‘made aware’ of Russian doping corruption in August 2014

An email sent by Sebastian Coe suggests that he had been ‘made aware’ that Russian athletes were being extorted in return for the covering up of positive doping tests in August 2014, in contrast to his previous assertion that he knew nothing about the specific allegations of corruption in Russia until an ARD December 2014 documentary. However, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Coe maintains that although he received an email attachment from former athlete David Bedford in August 2014 containing the specific allegations, he did not read it and sent it on to the IAAF Ethics Commission.

‘I have in the last couple of days received copied documentation of serious allegations being made by and on behalf of the Russian female athlete Shobukhova from David Bedford’, reads the 14 August email (PDF below) to Michael Beloff QC, head of the IAAF Ethics Board. ‘I have spoken to David today on the phone and he advises me that he has shared this information with you. Should I forward this documentation to you? The purpose of this note is of course to advise you that I have now been made aware of the allegations.’

On the face of it, this appears to contradict a statement Coe made when questioned by the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee of the UK Parliament in December 2015. “We were not aware – I was certainly not aware – of the specific allegations that had been made around the corruption of anti-doping processes in Russia”, he said. “I did actually say on record that I was grateful the ARD brought to the attention of our sport those particular challenges. When ARD reported their concerns, allegations and findings in November [December] 2014, I said at the time, ‘Please hand over to us what you have because this will help us understand a great deal more about the issue’. I said, ‘If you don’t trust our organisation then hand it to WADA. If you don’t trust WADA, hand it to an independent organisation.’”

However Coe contends that the above comments refer to whether he was aware that IAAF officials were involved in covering up Russian doping. ‘I wish to confirm that to the best of my recollection, I was not aware prior to December 2014 of the allegations that Papa Massata Diack/others associated with the IAAF were involved in covering up Russian doping’, he argues in a response to the CMS Committee (PDF below), which today published his August 2014 email.

In August 2014, Bedford – a former Chairman of the IAAF Road Running Commission – sent Coe an email containing a written complaint from Russian distance runner Liliya Shobukhova’s agent, Andrey Baranov, that athletics officials were attempting to export money from her in return for covering up a positive doping test. Coe’s response to the CMS Committee also calls into question whether Bedford and Coe discussed the contents of that written complaint in detail.

‘I do recall David Bedford calling me at some point in early August 2014, while I was overseas, and asking me if I was aware of allegations being put to the IAAF Ethics Commission by Liliya Shobukhova’, reads Coe’s letter. ‘I said no and he said in that case he would email me copies of documents he had previously sent to the Ethics Commission. That was all he said; he did not provide any more detail about what the allegations were, and I did not ask him.’

Bedford said that he had urged Coe to examine the written complaint. “I asked him was he aware of the allegations that had been put forward to the Ethics Commission relating to Liliya Shobukhova”, he said in evidence given to the CMS Committee on 10 January. “He said no, and I said, ‘In that case, I’m going to forward to you by e-mail copies of the documents that went because I believe you need to see them’”.

Analysis: stalemate

As Coe maintains that he didn’t read the attachments to Bedford’s August 2014 email, Coe’s email to Beloff is not the ‘smoking gun’ that some might have hoped for. However, it does reveal that Coe knew enough about the allegations to consider them ‘serious’. The CMS Committee will now have the job of attempting to ascertain if this equated to actual knowledge of what had been occurring in Russia.

The underlying allegation is that Coe, who at the time was Vice-President of the IAAF, knew about corrupt athletics officials extorting money from athletes in return for covering up positive tests, but delayed dealing with the issue until he was appointed IAAF President in August 2015. “It might be true that he decided that the best way he could help the sport was to make sure that he got elected as President, because if that did not happen then there was no future for the sport”, Bedford told the CMS Committee on 10 January. “What are you suggesting – that he thought his prospects of being elected were best served by remaining wilfully ignorant of evidence of corruption?” asked John Nicholson MP. “That is the only thing that I can think of”, replied Bedford. “I have no evidence for it”.

Other documentation

The CMS Committee also published damning evidence which suggests that senior officials in the IAAF were aware that officials were extorting money from Russian athletes. The IAAF’s Senior Manager for Road Running, Sean Wallace-Jones, details how on 12 December 2011, he received communications from the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department which suggested that there was a question about Shobukhova’s eligibility.

‘On 12 December 2011, he [colleague Imre Mátraházi] received in copy an email addressed to the IAAF General Secretary with a memorandum attached from the Director of the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department Gabriel Dollé certifying that the athlete had been tested and that no banned substances had been found’, read a report from Michael Beloff QC, head of the IAAF Ethics Board, also published by the CMS Committee today (PDF below). ‘A few minutes later a further email was received asking that the previous email be ignored. The following day the General Secretary sent an email stating simply ‘Don’t Acte’ (sic.). Hearing of this I contacted David Bedford, the Race Director of the London Marathon and asked whether the WMM had already paid out the athlete as I believed that they should perhaps wait (without stating the reason); Bedford confirmed to me that the athlete had already been paid.’

Wallace-Jones met Baranov, Shobukhova’s agent, in Tokyo on 22 February 2014 who told him that Shobukhova ‘had paid half a million dollars to the Russian Federation and ‘a black man who comes very often to Moscow for the IAAF’; it appeared from the description that this could have been the son of President Diack, as when I asked whether it was a small man or a big large man, he replied the latter. To the best of my knowledge the only two people he could have referred to are the President’s son Papa Massata and a consulting legal counsel, Habib Cissé, but I obviously can only surmise this as unsubstantiated so far.’

He took his concerns to Lamine Diack, IAAF President at the time, on 30 March 2014. ‘He immediately told me that the accusations were untrue and that if there was any truth then they would be investigated. I told him that I believed that there was considerable circumstantial evidence and that investigation was certainly called for. He then proceeded to tell me about his relationship with his son Papa Massata, saying how difficult it had been and how they had not spoken for many years and that there had been a lot of resentment from his son as he (President Diack) was rarely at home due to his political and sporting commitments. This continued for a while, followed by some time telling me about all of the good things that he himself had done for sport and politics in Senegal and with the CAA. The meeting ended with the President saying that we should meet for lunch in Monaco to discuss further.’

In April, Wallace-Jones received a Facebook message from Baranov detailing the payments Shobukhova had made to ‘a representative of the Russian federation’. The details are included in the PDF below, and further details regarding the payments are included in the second PDF below, which details Baranov’s evidence as given to Michael Beloff QC. This also details the pressure that the ‘Russian Federation’ allegedly put on Shobukhova to sign a document accepting a doping sanction.

Conclusion

Sebastian Coe was Vice President of the IAAF from 2007 before launching his presidential campaign in November 2014 – shortly after receiving Bedford’s email and shortly before ARD’s December 2014 documentary, which detailed how athletics officials were extorting money from Russian athletes in return for covering up positive doping tests. In his evidence to the CMS Committee, Coe has pointed out that the Vice-President’s role only involved ten days a year, and that the IAAF Council were only briefed about the work carried out by the IAAF Anti-Doping Unit every six months.

Coe has consistently argued that he was not aware that senior IAAF officials knew that athletes were being extorted in return for covering up positive doping tests. However, the evidence above suggests that many IAAF officials knew that positive doping tests had been covered up. This includes:

• former IAAF President Lamine Diack, whom Coe has called his “spiritual President”;
• his son, Papa Massata Diack;
• his Chef de Cabinet Cheikh Thiare;
• Nick Davies, Director of Coe’s office;
• Habib Cissé, Lamine’s Legal Advisor;
• Valentin Balakhnichev, former IAAF Treasurer;
• Sean Wallace-Jones, IAAF Senior Manager, Road Running;
• Imre Mátraházi, IAAF Competitions Department; and
• Gabriel Dollé, former head of the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department.

Coe has previously indicated that he has no new information to offer the CMS Committee. If he does attend any future hearing, he is likely to face further questions about whether he was aware of the situation prior to December 2014. If not, as he maintains, then the CMS Committee is likely to press him about why he was not aware, given that so many of his colleagues appear to have been aware of what was going on.

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