PARIS (AP) — The Russian doping scandal took a new twist Friday when a French newspaper reported that former IAAF President Lamine Diack asked Russia for more than $1 million to fund the political opposition in his native Senegal.
Diack told French police that he asked for 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) from Russia in 2011 to help finance the opposition ahead of Senegal’s presidential election, Le Monde reported.
The request came at a time when the International Association of Athletics Federations was dealing with a slew of suspected Russian doping cases.
French police took Diack into custody in November for questioning. He was subsequently placed under formal investigation on corruption and money-laundering charges. Le Monde said it has seen transcripts of his hearings.
France’s national office for financial prosecutions has alleged that Diack, who presided for nearly 16 years at track and field’s governing body, pocketed more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in what prosecutors suspect was a corrupt scheme to blackmail athletes in exchange for hushing up suspected doping.
The IAAF has suspended Russia from international competition. Its athletes could miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August if their federation doesn’t take remedial steps against widespread, systematic and allegedly state-sanctioned doping detailed in a damning report last month from a World Anti-Doping Agency investigative committee.
According to Le Monde, Diack told his questioners that he asked for the money from Valentin Balakhnichev, then president of the Russian track federation. The paper reported that Diack said he wanted to finance the Senegalese political opposition against then-President Abdoulaye Wade.
“I told him that to win the elections, I needed about 1.5 million euros,” Diack said, according to Le Monde. “He said to me, ‘We’ll try to find it, no problem.'”
Contacted by Le Monde, Balakhnichev denied having had such a conversation with Diack.
Without saying directly that Russia paid him to look the other way, Diack drew a link between Russian political financing and Russian doping cases, according to excerpts in Le Monde.
“At that time there was these problems of suspending Russian athletes a few months ahead of the world championships in Russia,” the paper quoted Diack as telling the police. “We came to an agreement. Russia paid. Balakhnichev organized all of that.”
Contacted Friday by The Associated Press, Balakhnichev said: “My position on Diack’s statement is in the Le Monde newspaper.” Diack’s lawyer, Christian Charriere-Bournazel, would have no comment before Saturday morning, his offce told the AP.
Le Monde quoted Balakhnichev as saying: “Neither I nor my federation was implicated in such a discussion or affair with Mr. Diack. This type of business is not in our interest or within our power. We cannot interfere in the internal affairs of Senegal.”
Dick Pound, head of the WADA committee that investigated doping in Russia, said Friday that his panel has not turned up the Senegalese political angle in its own probe.
“I have no idea what that is meant to do, whether it’s the truth or whether it’s an attempt (by Diack) to try to demonstrate that he wasn’t doing this for personal gain,” Pound told the AP.
The French prosecutor’s office said Friday that it had no comment on Le Monde‘s report.
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