Athletics ex-boss stands trial for taking bribes to clear Russians of doping


PARIS (Reuters) – Lamine Diack, the former head of the governing body for world athletics, was at the heart of a corruption scam that saw Russian athletes pay six-figure sums to have their names erased from doping lists, prosecutors told a French court on Monday.

Wearing a dark grey suit, Diack, 87, who led the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from 1999 to 2015, stood before the French judges on the first day of trial as charges of corruption, money laundering and breach of trust were read out.

Prosecutors allege Diack solicited bribes totalling 3.45 million euros ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected of doping to cover up test results and let them continue competing, including in the 2012 London Olympics.

They also say Diack obtained $1.5 million of Russian funds while negotiating sponsorship and television rights to help finance Macky Sall’s campaign for the 2012 Senegal presidential election, in exchange for slowing anti-doping procedures.

Diack has previously denied wrongdoing. He spoke on Monday only to confirm his identity and is due to testify on Wednesday.

His lawyer William Bourdon described him as “serene and determined”.

“The fact financial exchanges took place is not enough on its own to prove corruption,” Bourdon told reporters at the end of the first session.

Diack, who has been under house arrest ahead of the trial, faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

His son, Papa Massata, who fled France for his native Senegal after the French investigation began, is also accused of playing a role in the plot, and is being tried in absentia.

The court rejected a request by Papa Massata’s French lawyer that the trial be postponed because coronavirus border restrictions meant his Senegalese lawyers could not be present. Senegal has refused to extradite him.

Four other defendants have been charged in the case: Habib Cisse, Diack’s former lawyer at the IAAF; Gabriel Dollé, who oversaw doping tests at the IAAF; former head of Russian athletics Valentin Balakhnitchev, and former Russian athletics’ head coach Alexei Melnikov.

Balakhnitchev and Melnikov were not in court.

Dollé denied taking bribes in order to allow Russian athletes to compete. He told the court he had agreed only to keep a low profile on the large number of positive Russian doping tests to help the IAAF find sponsors.

“Mr Diack had asked me to consider the fact that the IAAF was in a perilous financial state and needed sponsors,” he told the court. “There was never any question of allowing the Russian athletes to participate in international competitions.”

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Reporting by Richard Lough and Tangi Salaun; Editing by Ken Ferris, Nick Macfie and Peter Graff