A sports corruption trial involving allegations of doping cover-ups and illicit payoffs at the top of track and field opened Monday in Paris.
In six days of hearings, the Paris court will weigh evidence that Russian athletes paid millions of dollars to hide their suspected doping so they could compete at the Olympics in 2012 and other competitions. Seized documents suggested that athletes paid to have doping charges buried or delayed, an illicit mechanism dubbed “full protection,” the court president said, outlining the case with tentacles stretching from Europe to Asia and Africa.
Lamine Diack, who served as president of the sport’s governing body for nearly 16 years, is one of the alleged recipients of the payments. Diack, 87, was present in court, wearing a white face mask.
The court briefly considered but then rejected a request from a lawyer for Papa Massata Diack, one of Lamine Diack’s sons who is also a defendant in the case, that the trial be delayed because two of his other lawyers weren’t able to attend the trial because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
The trial had already been delayed from January to allow the inclusion of new evidence.
Papa Massata Diack lives in Senegal, shielded from an international arrest warrant issued by France, and did not attend Monday’s hearing.
As IAAF president, Diack was one of the most influential men in Olympic sports, presiding over an era when Usain Bolt made track and field wildly popular. But Diack’s legacy, and the IAAF’s credibility, took a beating after he stepped down in 2015. He was arrested in France and investigators revealed accusations of athletes being squeezed for payments to cover up their doping cases. A Russian marathon runner told investigators that she alone paid 450,000 euros, a large chunk of which was subsequently refunded to her when she was later banned from competing despite the alleged pay-off.
Diack is being tried for corruption, money laundering and breach of trust. Prosecutors say he directly or indirectly solicited 3.45 million euros ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected by the IAAF of doping who paid to have their names cleared so they could continue competing. About two dozen Russian athletes were reportedly involved. A Russian marathon runner told investigators that she alone paid 450,000 euros, a large chunk of which was subsequently refunded to her when she was later suspended from competing for doping despite the alleged pay-off, the court president detailed.
Prosecutors have also charged Diack for involvement in a $1.5 million payment from Russia for use in electoral politics in his native Senegal. Prosecutors say the money was creamed off sponsorship and TV rights deals, negotiated with Russian officials. Prosecutors say the money was to finance presidential and legislative election campaigns in Senegal in 2012, in exchange for slowing down doping cases targeting Russian athletes.
Diack is also accused of having enabled his son to embezzle IAAF sponsorship revenue from Russia’s VTB Bank, Chinese oil firm Sinopec and broadcaster CCTV, South Korean tech giant Samsung and others.
Papa Massata Diack also faces corruption, money laundering and breach of trust charges. Senegal has refused France’s extradition requests for the former IAAF marketing consultant.
Lamine Diack was detained on a trip to France in 2015 and has been forbidden from leaving the country since.
Also being tried for corruption are a lawyer who advised Diack, Habib Cisse, and a doctor, Gabriel Dolle, who oversaw drug-testing at the IAAF and is accused of taking payments to delay doping cases. Both men were in court.
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Two Russians are also on trial but were not present: Valentin Balakhnichev, a former IAAF treasurer, and Alexei Melnikov, a coach who led Russia’s long-distance running program.
The Associated Press contributed to this article