Investigation continues into former world biathlon leadership

Alexei Volkov competing at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

In full swing

Investigation continues into former world biathlon leadership

Von Hajo Seppelt, Grit Hartmann, Jörg Winterfeldt und Christoph Nahr

It is now over six months since an investigation into the former leadership of the International Biathlon Union was made public. The case is about far more than simple sport and colourful allegations include paid hunting trips, an escort agency and suspicious favours awarded to Russian biathletes.

It will not be an easy process for the new world boss of biathlon to reform the sport. It was only in September that Olle Dahlin was elected president of the IBU. Biathletes expect the Swede than to manoeuvre their prosperous federation away from scandalous headlines.

These headlines were mainly prompted by Dahlin’s predecessor. The Norwegian Anders Besseberg is said to have had a good time at Russia's expense. In return? The protection of Russian dopers.

Since spring of this year, the Public Prosecutor's Office for Corruption in Vienna has been looking into the practice of the founding-boss of the IBU. But his successor, Dahlin, is having a harder time cleaning up than expected. This is not only due the state of the organisation he inherited, but also due to his reduced mobility. Shortly before the start of the new World Cup season over the weekend in Pokljuka, Dahlin broke his leg. The Swede was excused from the start.

Shocked sportsmen

The things which has gone to pieces this year for the association are far more serious. Austria's investigators raided Besseberg's office and residence in April and immediately accused his German general secretary Nicole Resch of the same crime. It is now hard for athletes and fans to trust the integrity not only of the officials, but also the competitions. "These are harsh accusations, and we were shocked by them. It's important to clarify things," said the German biathlon Olympic champion Arnd Peiffer to the ARD doping editorial team. "It's important to stop something like this, so it’ll not happen again.”

Vienna‘s public prosecutor's Office is investigating 12 accused persons, spokeswoman Silvia Thaller says.

Vienna‘s public prosecutor's Office is investigating 12 accused persons, spokeswoman Silvia Thaller says.

The prosecutors in Vienna are currently evaluating the results and data obtained during the house searches. It is not clear how long the investigations against Besseberg and Resch will continue. Both deny all allegations. But Besseberg's Austrian defence lawyer Norbert Wess assumes at least one year. And Silvia Thaller, spokeswoman for the responsible public prosecutor's office, told the ARD doping editorial office: "The investigations are in full swing. “We are investigating 12 accused persons, with two accused persons at the centre of our investigations into allegations of corruption. The remaining 10 defendants are being named as defendants on suspicion of doping and fraud in connection with doping.” These consist of Russian coaches and athletes, some of who are still active.

Basis of the investigation

The groundwork of the investigation is an affidavit of the whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. The Russian used to be the prominent head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory. After the ARD doping editorial team uncovered the state doping system at the end of 2014, he left Russia for United States and became a member of the FBI's witness protection program. After all, it is now clear how brutally Putin's secret service deals with enemies of the state. Because biathlon was one of the sport’s most heavily implicated in Putin's sports fraud alongside athletics, Rodchenkov dedicated a separate report to it.

"Active use of corrupt practices"

On this - and on information from several IBU insiders - the chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, the German Günter Younger, based a dossier on biathlon last winter. It was leaked in April and excerpts have been seen by the ARD doping editorial office. Younger concluded on page 15 that "Russia actively uses corrupt practices, in particular bribery, to garner favour with individuals from international federations" and that "Russia successfully targeted the IBU, more specifically Mr. Besseberg and Ms. Resch, to assist in the progression of Russian interests".

According to the paper, Besseberg alone received between $200,000 and $300,000 from the Russians - an accusation that Besseberg immediately rejected in interviews. In addition, according to the WADA dossier, Russian officials also provided Besseberg with "holidays, hunting trips and prostitutes". In this context, it is interesting to note a side-project of his former head of communications seems odd: For years the former employee ran an escort service. He does not deny this to the ARD doping editorial office, but he does insist that Besseberg was never a customer.

Dirty blood profiles?

James Carrabre

The head of the Medical Committee of the IBU, James Carrabre, felt systematically sabotaged by the leadership.

Since then, investigators have been able to explore a variety of ways in which the IBU leadership duo could have exerted influence for the benefit of the Russians. The head of the Medical Committee of the IBU, James Carrabre, reports to the ARD doping editorial office how his committee was systematically sabotaged by the leadership in the anti-doping fight. "We felt a lot of pressure on the Medical Committee to ... in a sense not be involved as much,” the Canadian said. “The IBU tried to diminish the number of meetings we could have as a Medical Committee, we were no longer allowed to attend as individual members of the Medical Committee the World Cups as we had done before. And we thought that was very strange.”

In addition, the IBU maintained its own database of athletes’ blood values until 2015. It was called ARIETA and, according to the association, served as a basis for targeted urine tests, "not as a data collection of profiles of athletes' biological passports". But Rodchenkov also accused the former IBU leadership of hastily setting aside evidence after the ARD revelations in 2014.  "With regards to biathlon and skiing - after Sochi Games and before Sochi Games they saw that the Russian athletes‘ Biological Passport were absolutely bad. What did IBU and FIS (International Ski Federation) do? When the film by Hajo Seppelt was broadcast on ARD, they sent all dirty, extremely dirty biological passport of skiers and biathletes to RUSADA with only one purpose: to bury them.”

Sabotage by dawdling around?

There are other suspicious elements of the IBU’s anti-doping analysis. One example is a verdict against the Russian biathlete Yekaterina Glasyrina, who was banned by the IBU itself at the beginning of May because of the growing international pressure. The IBU judges note that at the beginning of 2014 the federation sent 11 Russian doping samples, which had been taken during training in Ruhpolding, not to Cologne or Kreischa for analysis, but to the control laboratory in distant Moscow. The results were all negative, which seems highly suspicious. After all, the institution first and foremost knew how to conceal positive tests.

Rodchenkov also reported about an incident at the Olympic Games in Sochi. The samples of five biathletes were only taken more than 36 hours after the collection in the IOC laboratory, without the IBU having had a plausible and credible explanation. Because the usability of samples had expired after one and a half days, they could not be analysed any more. Is it a coincidence that among these samples were those of the men’s 4x7.5 kilometre relay in biathlon?  A few days later they won gold - beating Germany.

Rodchenkov reports that the team’s talisman, Yevgeny Ustyugov, had already had conspicuous values in 2009 and had only been protected from punishment thanks to the intervention of his Russian boss. He also claims that Ustyugov was later allowed to continue racing despite having "the dirtiest blood profile of all". It was not until late this summer that the IBU opened proceedings against Ustyugov and three colleagues. The 33-year-old is considered provisionally suspended until the end of the investigation. In reality, he has ended his sports career anyway.

Stand: 02.12.2018, 20:56