In the latest case involving French prosecution of international corruption, on September 16 the Paris Criminal Court convicted and sentenced the former longtime head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Lameke Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack to prison, for their respective roles in soliciting and accepting payments from Russian athletes who were suspected of doping to cover up the allegations and allow them to continue competing, including in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In sentencing Lameke Diack, who reportedly was found guilty of multiple corruption charges and of breach of trust but acquitted of money laundering, Judge Rose-Marie Hunault accepted the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation of four years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of €500,000 (US$593,423), but suspended two of those years, evidently because of Diack’s advanced age (87)). Indeed, Judge Hunault indicated that he was unlikely to go to prison, saying “Given your age you can expect conditional release.”
The court also sentenced Papa Massata Diack, who had worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF, to four years’ imprisonment and a €1 million (US$1.17 million) fine. Papa Massata was tried in absentia because Senegal had refused to extradite him to France.
In addition to the Diacks, the court convicted and sentenced four other defendants connected with the corruption scheme. Gabriel Dolle, a doctor who supervised drug testing at the IAAF, received a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment and a €140,000 (US$163,000) fine for taking money to slow doping sanctions. Habib Cisse, Lameke Diack’s legal advisor, received a sentence of three years’ imprisonment (two of which were suspended).
Two other defendants, former IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev and Russian coach of long-distance walkers and runners Alexei Melnikov, were tried and convicted in absentia. The court sentenced Balakhnichev to three years’ imprisonment and confiscation of nearly €1.9 million euros ($2.2 million) from his account in Monaco, and sentenced Melnikov to two years’ imprisonment.
Several aspects of the trial deserve mention:
- The trial had been scheduled to start in January 2020, but was postponed until June 2020 because Papa Massata Diack, though remaining in absentia, submitted documents containing testimony by him to the Paris court. He later asserted that he “refused to come to the French courts because they lacked impartiality.”
- At trial, French prosecutors argued that Lameke Diack had solicited a total of €3.45 million ($3.9 million) from the athletes, and that he had accepted a $1.5 million bribe from Russia to finance Macky Sall’s 2012 election campaign for the Presidency of Senegal in exchange for slowing doping cases involving Russian athletes.
- Testifying in his own defense, Lameke Diack admitted at trial that he should have been more vigilant during his tenure at the IAAF, and accused his son of “conduct[ing] himself like a thug” while he was at the IAAF.
- Nonetheless, at sentencing, Judge Hunault told Lameke Diack that there was “an understanding between you and your son” in diverting funds, and specifically described Lameke Diack’s role in the corruption scheme. In particular, she stated that “[t]he money was paid in exchange for a program of ‘full protection,’” and that the scheme allowed athletes who should have been suspended “purely and simply to escape sanctions.” She also found that his actions had “undermined the values of athletics and the fight against doping.”
- With regard to Papa Massata Diack, Judge Hunault found that $15 million was funneled to the his companies, including commissions and money skimmed from contracts and the sale of television rights and other transactions while his father was head of the IAAF.
- In addition to the sentences and criminal fines, Judge Hunault awarded €16 million ($18.9 million) in damages to the IAAF. Approximately one-third is to be paid by the Diacks and the remain two-thirds by them and the four others found guilty.
This case is noteworthy for two reasons. First, as with the 2017 trial and conviction of Equatorial Guinea Vice President Teodorin Obiang, it indicates France’s commitment to and vigor in prosecuting foreign corruption.
Second, it should not necessarily be viewed as the only case of IAAF-related corruption that France is willing to pursue. French prosecutors are apparently investigating allegations that the bidding committee for the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympic Games bribed the Diacks in 2013 to secure votes.
While the bidding committee has denied those allegations, given the scale and duration of the corruption already proved in the Diacks’ prosecution and Lameke Diack’s 16-year tenure as IAAF head, it should surprise no one if new cases emerge from the investigation that cast further shadows over international track and field events during the Diacks’ tenure at the IAAF.
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Jonathan J. Rusch is Principal of DTG Risk & Compliance LLC and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center and American University Washington College of Law.