White collar specialists

Suspected of serious accusations: The former president of the biathlon world federation Anders Besseberg

Biathlon scandal

White collar specialists

Von Hajo Seppelt, Grit Hartmann and Jörg Winterfeldt

The two figures at the centre of the biathlon scandal have obtained high-profile-lawyers - with different defence strategies. It is possible that the defendants may end up clashing whith each other.

The lawyer, who is supposed to slap the once most powerful man of biathlon sport out of court, resides with his office in the best downtown location in Vienna, within walking distance of the Stephansdom. Because he understands his more famous clientele, Norbert Wess is one of Austria's leading criminal defence lawyers.

In one of the most spectacular criminal proceedings in his country, for example, he struggled for the interests of Karl-Heinz Grasser, the former finance minister. "I simply had the good fortune" says Wess, "that in the past there had been one or two more prominent clients who had turned to our firm."

Now it’s about the Norwegian Anders Besseberg, at least in Olympic winter sports a celebrity. Until April, he had spent two and a half decades as the undisputed President of the biathlon world federation, IBU. Wess is supposed to get the criminal investigations for corruption off his back, together with the accusation that he covered up positive doping tests.

Compassion with the client

Popular amongst celebrities and the media: Austrian lawyer Norbert Wess from Vienna

Popular amongst celebrities and the media: Austrian lawyer Norbert Wess from Vienna

Wess is quick to demonstrate that he has become something of an expert on noble suspects, not least thanks to his manner: jovial in his dealings, legally prudent in his conversations. He has built up and established the firm himself within a decade. Wess knows how to attract attention, especially in a smaller country like Austria, where networking becomes an easier craft: Wess has co-authored a manual on criminal defence, co-edits a trade journal and sits in the leadership of a penal senate of the Austrian Bundesliga. Such a man is never offside. His art of catching people should now help the Norwegian farmer Besseberg out of trouble.

Besseberg is accused of being influenced by the Russians with money, invitations to hunting trips and prostitute adventures. Wess is not concerned in how these accusations are publicly supported by insiders. He is convinced that, at some point, he will be able to bring the rolling avalanche of investigations under control: "We do it easily because the accusations are emphatically and comprehensively denied. From our point of view, the right decision can only be to close the criminal proceedings" he says. And for the sake of good order, he adds: "According to the Austrian Code of Criminal Procedure, criminal proceedings should not be open to the public during the investigation procedure, because the principle of the presumption of innocence can only be upheld in the best possible way.”

Medial interceptors

In this respect, Besseberg's defence strategy differs diametrically from that of the lawyers of his former secretary general Nicole Resch, who was confronted with similar accusations in the same proceedings. It comes to her advantage that she is not blamed directly by the prosecutors’ principal witness, Whistleblower Grigori Rodchenkov. He testified in the USA, that she was a yes-person, but that he did not know directly, that she was ensnared in corrupt behaviour.

Longtime companions: Anders Besseberg and Nicole Resch at a press conference in 2009 on the occasion of doping cases in the Russian national team

Longtime companions: Anders Besseberg and Nicole Resch at a press conference in 2009 on the occasion of doping cases in the Russian national team

The Thuringian woman is represented by the defence lawyer Lukas Kollmann in Vienna. He advertises that he is number one in the category "Next Generation Lawyers" and that his law firm ranks number four in the category "White Collar Crime (including fraud)". This suits his client Resch, who used to like to appear with a high-necked white collar. However, he avoids media contact in the current investigation proceedings.

He even lets his client employ a kind of media interceptor. Journalists, who ask Kollmann for an interview with the client Resch, are forwarded to a law firm in Cologne, which has already been working for the Turkish president Erdogan in Germany. From that firm they receive voluminous mail.

On several pages the reply aims - with intimidation-prone tone and legally bold argumentation - at preventing suspicion reporting and even identifying client Resch. It claims the client Resch never had any elevated position like that of a president. As if the Secretary General had never given public press conferences or even television interviews on the subject of doping in the International Biathlon Union. Thus Resch is at least known to a wider wintersport audience.

It will therefore be particularly exciting to see which strategy catches on better. After all, it is to be expected that the interests of Besseberg and Resch will clash. The two, according to the accusations in a confidential dossier of the World Anti-Doping Agency, have been so united to sabotage an effective anti-doping fight for the good of the Russians.

In his defence, Besseberg is obviously already interested in denying any involvement in the handling of test and sanction proceedings. "Mr. Besseberg has never been responsible for doping controls in the IBU,” explains Wess. “He is accused of intervening or governing in these control activities without having any competence at all.” His client would "resolutely deny" this.

Protected principal witness 

On the one hand, it sounds as if Wess is trying, for the good of Besseberg, to blame the secretary general for possible omissions as head of the administration. On the other hand, the defense attorney says: "It will not be the case that Mr. Besseberg steals from any responsibility. He will certainly take political responsibility if you say you have to improve one or two things here." As far as the allegation of corruption are concerned, however, one question needs to be answered: “How were the doping controls actually carried out by the persons responsible for doping controls within the IBU?

At present, investigators are still trying to gain further insights from the extensive evidence seized during the April raids. As this also involves foreign-language files, correspondence and communication, much has to be translated first. For this reason, the parties involved still expect the investigations to take one to two years. And Wess assumes that his client "will be entangled until the end of the proceedings", since he "was the head of the federation in his function."

Stand: 11.12.2018, 13:30