November 06, 2015

PARIS (AP) French authorities investigating former IAAF President Lamine Diack say one of his sons was also ''very active'' in an alleged ''system of corruption'' that sought to blackmail athletes, with demands of money to hush-up suspected doping.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, France's national financial prosecutor said investigators have verified that Lamine Diack, who presided for nearly 16 years at track and field's governing body, pocketed ''more than 1 million euros'' ($1.1 million) from the alleged cash-for-silence scheme.

Evidence from the World Anti-Doping Agency that triggered the French probe suggests that a Turkish athlete, as well as athletes from Russia, was a victim of a blackmail attempt allegedly involving Diack's family, prosecutor Eliane Houlette said in the AP interview in her Paris office.

According to WADA's findings, at least one of Diack's sons approached Turkish runner Asli Cakir Alptekin a few months after she won gold in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and suggested she could pay to quash a doping positive based on her blood readings.

''It was a sort of blackmail,'' Houlette said. ''She refused.''

Alptekin was subsequently banned for eight years, for the second anti-doping rule violation of her career, and forfeited her gold in a settlement with the IAAF concluded in August this year.

''This athlete's case figures in the report that the World Anti-Doping Agency gave us,'' Houlette told the AP. But Alptekin hasn't yet been interviewed by three French investigating magistrates now seeking to determine exactly how many athletes were approached, how much they paid and whether the elder Diack, in his role as IAAF president, simply turned a blind eye or was an active organizer.

A former long jumper who stepped down in August from the IAAF, Diack was taken into police custody last Sunday and released two days later after being formally placed under investigation on preliminary charges of corruption and money laundering.

His legal adviser at the IAAF, Habib Cisse, was also detained and charged with corruption. So, too, was Gabriel Dolle, a doctor who managed the IAAF anti-doping program.

In the AP interview, Houlette said the son, Papa Massata Diack, who worked under his father as an IAAF marketing consultant, is also thought to have played a ''very active'' role in the alleged corruption.

''We didn't arrest Mr. Diack's son because he didn't come to Paris when he was meant to. But he is also implicated in this affair,'' she said. ''We haven't had the opportunity to arrest him in France. We would have done so if we could.''

Papa Massata Diack has a sports consultancy company in Dakar, Senegal. Repeated phone calls on Friday to office and mobile phone numbers he listed in earlier communications with the AP went unanswered or did not ring through. The AP sent an email seeking comment to the address he used earlier this year to write to the news agency but got no immediate response.

He also was unreachable in Dakar when an AP reporter visited the home that neighboring security guards said he lived in.

For the first time Friday, the IAAF's ethics commission said it has also been investigating Papa Massata Diack and others. It has filed disciplinary charges against him, Dolle, former Russian athletics federation head Valentin Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov, former head coach for Russia's long-distance runners and walkers.

At least six athletes, for the moment seemingly mostly Russians, are thought to have been told that their suspected doping could be hushed up, allowing them to continue competing, if they paid.

''It's a form of blackmail when you say to someone: `Pay or you can't compete,''' said Houlette. ''I don't know if we can call it a mafia system but it is a system of corruption. It's extremely serious.''

Asked how much Diack senior is believed to have pocketed, she replied: ''From what we've verified, it is more than 1 million euros and this money seemingly transmitted through the Russian athletics federation.''

''Because the investigations have just started, we cannot affirm that all this money came from payments from Russian athletes,'' she said. ''What is certain is that Mr. Cisse, the legal adviser to Mr. Diack, traveled to Russia and gave to the Russian federation the list of Russian athletes suspected of doping and, in exchange for sums of money, these athletes weren't sanctioned.''

Cisse has not responded to AP phone calls and an email.

One condition of Diack's release on bail is that he is not allowed to have any contact with Papa Massata, Houlette said.

On Monday, a WADA commission that has been investigating allegations of widespread doping and cover-ups in Russian sport will announce the findings of its 11-month probe, which was prompted by a damning German television documentary.

The French probe and allegations against Diack are severe early tests for the presidency of his successor at the IAAF, Sebastian Coe. With football officials at FIFA also facing criminal probes in the United States and Switzerland, two of the most powerful governing bodies, supposed guardians for two of the most popular sports, are now operating under dark clouds.

The IAAF announced Friday that it is cancelling its annual awards gala later this month, saying: ''This is not the right time nor the right context to pay tribute to the best athletes of our sport. They deserve to be honored at a time when the situation will be restored.''


Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

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