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June 9, 2020

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Diack’s graft trial starts

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 Paris court yesterday.

Wearing a dark gray suit, Diack, 87, who led the International Association of Athletics Federations 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 (US$3.9 million) from athletes suspected of doping to cover up test results and let them continue competing, including at the 2012 London Olympics.

They also say Diack obtained US$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 yesterday only to confirm his identity and is due to testify tomorrow.

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 Dolle, 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.

Dolle denied taking bribes in order to allow Russian athletes to compete. He told the court that 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.”

Investigators at the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, or PNF, describe a web of corruption in world athletics under Diack’s leadership.

In a separate case, French prosecutors are investigating alleged bribes related to the Olympics and athletics world championships.

They suspect Tokyo’s bidding committee bribed the Diacks in 2013 to secure votes, which the committee has denied. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have since been postponed to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Sebastian Coe, Diack’s successor, has undertaken to rebuild trust in athletics and has introduced changes to the sport’s governance.


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