Corruption trial of Lamine Diack, former head of international athletics body, begins in Paris

Lamine Diack, the former head of World Athletics, arrives at the courthouse in Paris on June 8, 2020.
Lamine Diack, the former head of World Athletics, arrives at the courthouse in Paris on June 8, 2020. © AFP

Lamine Diack, the former head of World Athletics' governing body, arrived in court in Paris on Monday to stand trial on charges of corruption, money laundering and breach of trust linked to a Russian doping scandal.

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Prosecutors allege he solicited €3.45 million ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected of doping to cover up the allegations and allow them to continue competing, including in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Diack, who turned 87 on Sunday, has denied wrongdoing. His lawyers have said the accusations are baseless.

Diack, from Senegal, led the governing International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), now renamed World Athletics, from 1999-2015 and was among the most influential men in track and field. He lives under house arrest in Paris and faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years if convicted.

The trial had been due to start in January but was postponed after new documents containing testimony from his son and co-defendant, Papa Massata Diack, were submitted to the court.

Senegal has refused to extradite Papa Massata, who worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF. He also faces charges of money laundering, corruption and breach of trust, according to the indictment, and will be tried in absentia.

Playing 'cat and mouse' with French court

Papa Massata's French lawyer on Monday said his client's Senegalese counterparts were indispensable to his defence but had been unable to travel to Paris because of coronavirus border restrictions.

The prosecution said Papa Massata was a fugitive playing "cat and mouse" with the French court.

Papa Massata is implicated through a payment of €450,000 from Russian runner Liliya Shobukhova, allegedly to have her blood passport case delayed in order to compete in the 2012 Olympic marathon, as revealed by German broadcaster ARD in 2014. He is accused of playing a "central role" in the network of corruption and is charged with "money laundering", "giving bribes" and "aiding the receiving of bribes”.

The deal that prosecutors say helped fund the 2012 election campaign of Sengalese President Macky Sall also allegedly smoothed the way for negotiations with Russian sponsors and broadcasters before the Moscow world championships in 2013.

The case is being pursued by the French authorities because the alleged money-laundering happened in France.

Lamine Diack has been forbidden from leaving France since the investigation began.

The other defendants are Habib Cisse, Diack's former lawyer at the IAAF; Gabriel Dolle, who oversaw doping tests at the IAAF; and Russians Valentin Balakhnitchev and Alexei Melnikov, who were chief and head athletics coach, respectively, of Russia's athletics' federation at the time of the alleged cover-up.

Balakhnitchev and Melnikov were not in court.

The scandal that the trial touches on led to Russia being banned from competing in several international competitions over state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015.

Despite being reinstated by other sports federations, Russia is still banned from competing as a nation by World Athletics.

Web of corruption in athletics

Investigators at the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (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 World Athletics Championships.

They suspect the bidding committee for Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games, which have been postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, bribed the Diacks in 2013 to secure votes, which the committee has denied.

Sebastian Coe, Diack's successor at World Athletics, has undertaken to rebuild trust in track and field and has introduced changes to the sport's governance.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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