SII Focus 7th January 2016

Analysis: IAAF bans officials for extorting money to cover doping

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Ethics Commission today banned three officials for life for extorting €450,000 from distance runner Liliya Shobukhova to cover up anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) for over three years. Former President of the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) and former IAAF Treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev was sanctioned with a life ban and a US$25,000 fine; IAAF marketing consultant and son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, Papa Massata Diack, was also banned for life and given a $25,000 fine; ARAF coach for distance walkers and runners Alexei Melnikov was given a life ban and a $15,000 fine. Gabriel Dollé, former Director of the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Department, was also handed a five year ban for failing to ensure that disciplinary measures were taken against Shobukhova. All four officials must also contribute an equal amount of $42,593 to cover the Ethics Commission’s costs in conducting the investigation, which totalled $170,372.

‘On the Panel’s findings the head of a national Federation, the senior coach of a major national team and a marketing consultant for the IAAF conspired together (and, it may yet be proven with others too) to conceal for more than three years anti-doping violations by an athlete at what appeared to be the highest pinnacle of her sport’, read the judgment (PDF below). ‘As to the first two, Balakhnichev and Melnikov, their actions were the antithesis of what was appropriate. Far from – as they should have – supporting the anti-doping regime, they subverted it, and, in so doing, allowed LS [Shobukhova] to compete in two marathons when she should not have done so, to the detriment of her rivals in those races and the integrity of the competition. As to the third, Papa Massata Diack, he had no functional responsibilities in the anti-doping regime but equally no justification at all for subverting it. All three compounded the vice of what they did by conspiring to extort what were in substance bribes from Shobukhova by acts of blackmail. They acted dishonestly and corruptly and did unprecedented damage to the sport of track and field which, by their actions, they have brought into serious disrepute.’

The Commission found that ARAF and IAAF officials conspired to extort Shobukhova to cover up an alleged doping violation, based on suspicious values in her athlete biological passport (ABP), in order to allow her to compete in the Marathon at the London 2012 Olympics. In the Commission’s words, in 2011 the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department was ‘very concerned’ that five Russian athletes, including Shobukhova, had reported ‘atypical’ ABP profiles. A letter was sent from Dollé to Balakhnichev on 12 June 2012, informing him that ‘the Expert Panel unanimously expressed the opinion that, in the absence of a satisfactory explanation from the athlete, it was highly likely that she had used a prohibited substance or a prohibited method’, and that in the absence of any reasonable explanation, ARAF ‘will be required to proceed with the case as an asserted anti-doping rule violation’.

Extortion & blackmail

Extortion and blackmail feature heavily in the language of the document. The Ethics Commission found that Balakhnichev, Melnikov and Diack had engineered an agreement whereby no IAAF action would be taken against Shobukhova (pictured), if she paid €450,000. It also found that they had attempted to silence Shobukhova and her husband from reporting what had happened by arranging the repayment of €300,000 to her and her husband.

Shobukhova and her husband Igor Shobukhov allege that Melnikov told them that if they paid him €450,000, then her name would be removed from the list of athletes with suspicious ABP profiles. Melnikov denies these allegations and Balakhnichev denies any knowledge of a payment made by Shobukhova to Melnikov. The Commission said that banking records show that €320,000 was withdrawn from the bank account of Shobukhova and Shobukhov in three separate withdrawals.

Dollé twice wrote to Balakhnichev on 15 February 2013 and on 3 March 2014, asking ARAF to conclude Shobukhova’s case, sending an ‘acceptance of sanction’ form on 7 March. On the form, which was dated 28 March 2014, Shobukhova ‘denied that the signature is hers and a handwriting expert has opined that it is a forgery’.

The Commission found that €300,000 was transferred from a company called Black Tidings in Singapore to Shobukhov on 28 March 2014. ‘On the same date, a bank confirmation of this transfer was emailed from an email address which is associated with the name Jean Pierre Bonnot, to Balakhnichev and Balakhnichev forwarded this to Melnikov, who subsequently forwarded it to Shobukhova’, reads its evidence. It found that Black Tidings has its domain name registered at the same address as PMD Consulting, Papa Massata Diack’s company. Diack denies all knowledge of the payment.

What happened to the remaining €150,000 – given that the Commission accepts that a €450,000 payment was agreed – remains a mystery, however in his evidence, Shobukhov alleges that it was ‘gifted’ to a lawyer.

In November 2011, Habib Cissé, the legal advisor of IAAF President Lamine Daick, took over personal responsibility for Russian ABP cases. The Commission found he had been closely involved with the Shobukhova case. ’Although HC is not one of the Defendants, there is much evidence prima facie linking him with the scheme to delay sanctions against Russian athletes; note in particular the constant references by IS, LS and AB to payments to “the Lawyer”’, reads the Commission’s report.

Forgery

Lily Shobukhova denies ever having signed a 28 March 2014 ‘acceptance of sanction’ form, understood to have been used by ARAF to sanction her with a two-year ban in April 2014. ‘Melnikov called us again in a final attempt to convince Liliya to sign the document’, reads evidence from Shobukhov. ‘We found his desperation particularly suspicious. We felt that ARAF were trying to hide something from us. I repeated what I had told him many times before; that we would need to first be refunded the €150,000 that ARAF had gifted to the Lawyer before we would consider discussing Liliya’s signature.’

As reported above, the Commission found Shobukhova ‘denied that the signature is hers and a handwriting expert has opined that it is a forgery’.

Whistleblowers

The Ethics Board heard evidence that such action had been going on for some time. ‘Since 2011, ARAF has been blackmailed by the IAAF’, read evidence provided by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to the Ethics Board, reproduced in its judgment. ‘A system was put into place at the IAAF level under which athletes with an abnormal blood passport profile would be allowed to keep competing at high level in exchange of cash payments made to the IAAF. In Russia, this would concern at least six athletes identified as follows: Liliya Shobukhova; Valeriy Borchin; Olga Kaniskina; Sergey Kirdyabkin; Yevgeniya Zolotova; Vladimir Kanayakin.’

‘According to Mr. Balakhnichev, the system was introduced and orchestrated by the son of the IAAF President and his lawyer, Mr. Habib Cissé, with the help of some people within the IAAF Anti-Doping Department’, continued WADA’s evidence. ‘The system was in place not only in Russia, but, potentially, in other countries such as Morocco and Turkey. The money was apparently paid by the athletes’ agents to ARAF and then given to the IAAF.’

As well as Shobukhova and her husband, a number of other individuals attempted to blow the whistle on what had been going on. Over the course of several conversations between February and April 2014, Shobukhova’s manager, Andrey Baranov, approached Sean Wallace-Jones‎ – the former IAAF Senior Manager for Road Running‎ – and asked him for help. Baranov explained that ARAF had been extorting Shobukhova and shared some of the details with him. Using Baranov’s evidence, Wallace-Jones eventually filed an official complaint with the IAAF Ethics Commission in April 2014, after senior IAAF officials, including Lamine Diack Gabriel Dolle and Nick Davis, allegedly failed to act on Baranov’s information.

IAAF lawyer Huw Roberts became aware that Russian ABP cases were being delayed at the end of 2012 and later resigned in protest. Having first raised the issue of the six Russian ABP cases in January 2013, Roberts resigned on 11 April 2014, ‘because the cases had still not been resolved’. Roberts has since been appointed by Bird & Bird, which act as the IAAF’s lawyers and are advising the IAAF Inspection Team that will verify whether ARAF has implemented the necessary reforms in order to be reinstated as an IAAF member.

Lies

The Ethics Commission was particularly scathing about some of the explanations and evidence provided by the defendants. ‘In summary, the Shobukhovas version of events has the ring of truth entirely consistent as it is with the undisputed facts and the key documentation’, reads the Commission’s findings. ‘The Balakhnichev/Melnikov version does not cohere with those facts but is rather riddled with implausibilities, inconsistencies, transparent lies and dubious documents. Papa Massata Diack’s version is also lacking in any plausibility and is further undermined by his refusal to expose himself to any meaningful questioning.’

The Commission also said that the credibility of the Balakhnichev/Melnikov version has also been undermined as Melnikov’s defence (paragraphs 71-77) and Balakhnichev’s defence (paragraphs 56-63) use ‘all but identical language’ in attempting to explain what had happened. ‘It is impossible to conclude other than this was an exercise in collaboration (though VB and AM deny it)’, concludes the Commission.

Delayed announcements

It appears that the IAAF delayed announcing Russian doping positives until after the 2013 Moscow World Championships, due to fears that they could jeopardise a sponsorship agreement with Russian bank VTB. Nick Davies temporarily stepped aside as Director of the IAAF President’s Office on 23 December, after a newspaper published emails in which he suggests delaying the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the Moscow 2013 World Championships. On 31 December, Anti-Doping Switzerland suspended its relationship with the IAAF after Le Monde alleged that Lamine Diack had confessed to the same offence.

Such claims have been corroborated in evidence provided by Dollé to the Ethics Commission. ‘He was told that Lamine Diack, Habib Cissé and Balakhnichev had agreed that the handling of the Russian cases including that of Shobukhova should be drawn out in order not to put in jeopardy an important sponsorship deal for the next IAAF World Championships […] Lamine Diack had asked Dollé to find a way to manage the cases discreetly to avoid bad publicity which could risk losing an important sponsor (the Russian bank VTB).’

IAAF response

A statement from the IAAF said that it was ‘angered’ by the panel’s finding that the three individuals had conspired to extort bribes from an athlete via blackmail. ‘This is all the more so because these breaches are related to one doping case which, among others, was identified and pursued by the IAAF Anti-Doping Department’, it read. ‘Ultimately, the Department was able to ensure that the athlete concerned received a lengthy ban, but the four individuals’ activities delayed that outcome. The IAAF has already introduced corrective measures to make sure this sort of interference can’t happen again.’

What’s next?

The Ethics Commission revealed that it is now investigating Lamine Diack and Habib Cissé’s role. ‘The Panel is aware that the French police are also investigating Cissé and Lamine Diack, who were not the subject of the initial complaint’, highlights the Commission’s report. ‘Cissé is currently being investigated by Sir Anthony [former Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, appointed by the Commission to investigate the allegations] as well. The Chairman of the Ethics Commission has also determined […] that an investigation should be commenced into Lamine Diack.’

Dollé could also face further action from the IAAF, dependent on the result of the French criminal investigation, coordinated by Interpol, which is currently proceeding. ‘Before the Panel the allegation (and supporting evidence) against Dollé did not include receipt of any monies from Shobukhova’, read the Commission’s judgment. ‘The Panel is, however, aware of reports that the French prosecuting authorities may have evidence that he too had a share in them. Were that to be established – and the Panel should also in fairness note GD’s express denial – it might be necessary to consider revisiting his case.’

On 14 January, the WADA Independent Commission will publish the second part of its report into allegations of systemic doping in athletics. Part one of its report, released on 9 November, only investigated the allegations made in the December 2014 documentary produced by Hajo Seppelt, ‘Top Secret Doping: How Russia makes its winners’ (video below).

The second part will explore allegations made in Seppelt’s second documentary, released in August, ‘Top Secret Doping: The shadowy world of athletics’ (video below). This analysed a database of 12,000 blood tests performed on 5,000 athletes from 2001-2012, experts concluding that many of the blood values could not be explained naturally.

‘Corruption and Bribery within IAAF – This Report also identifies corruption and bribery practices at the highest levels of international athletics, evidence of which has been transmitted to Interpol for appropriate investigation’, revealed the 9 November WADA Independent Commission report. ‘Publication of the information will be delayed until decisions are taken by the competent authorities regarding potential criminal prosecutions’.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe is likely to face further questioning about how much he knew about what was going on, as he was Vice President of the IAAF from 2007 until August 2015, when he replaced Lamine Diack. Nick Davies, Director of the IAAF President’s Office, has already been forced to resign after emails were published to Papa Massata Diack in which he suggests delaying the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the Moscow 2013 World Championships.

UK shadow Sports Minister, Clive Efford, has already written to Coe asking him when he became aware that the IAAF was delaying announcing Russian doping positives. ‘Mr Davies’s email suggests that other people at the IAAF would have to have been aware if such a complex strategy was to be implemented relating to Russian athletes who had tested positive’, Efford’s letter reportedly reads. ‘Can you state when you were first made aware of this situation?’

It is also likely that legal action could follow from athletes who lost races to athletes whom the IAAF helped cover up ADRVs. “Athletes who lost out because senior figures in the IAAF allowed other athletes that they knew were ineligible to compete to race will no doubt now be considering, along with their unions and representatives, potential legal action against the IAAF itself for breach of contract and/or negligence”, said Nick de Marco, a Barrister with Blackstone Chambers.

Sponsors could also take similar action. Following allegations of corruption at FIFA, sponsors wrote to FIFA urging reform, the suggestion being that they would consider withdrawing support unless realistic changes were made. In April 2013, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) went one step further by filing a lawsuit alleging that by ‘regularly and systematically’ doping, Tailwind Sports Corp., Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel violated the US Postal Service’s (USPS) 1998-2004 sponsorship contract, as a result submitting ‘false or fraudulent invoices for payment’ to the US government, which owns USPS.

As WADA is now ready to publish the second part of its report next week, this would suggest Interpol and French authorities have reached a decision on how they will proceed with criminal prosecutions against the accused. The 14th of January is D-Day for international athletics. The world will be watching – not just the 55-year olds – with bated breath.

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