Staying cool amidst a corruption storm

Staying cool amidst a corruption storm
Papa Massata Diack, a sports official accused of participating in one of biggest corruption schemes ever in global sports, is a familiar face at Senegal’s swankiest hotels. He was greeted by half a dozen people before he reached the back of the lobby of the Pullman Teranga last week.

Wearing his usual white boubou, Diack, 52, settled into a corner table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. His sister Awa carried a black backpack, which held a large file of documents that Diack had compiled to defend himself.

The criminal accusations against Diack are so numerous and so varied that Diack suggested a plan for an interview: Awa would take notes and then, eventually, retrieve documents, including several news media reports, from the file that has been expanding as the accusations have grown.

“This is the biggest lie in the world of sports,” said Diack, who is wanted by French law enforcement officials. “I can accept being accused, but they have never proven that I’m the ground zero of it.”

The son of the former head of track and field’s world governing body, Diack is at the centre of an ever-widening corruption inquiry that reaches across four continents.

Prosecutors say he has spent years behind the scenes, greasing hands in the shadowy intersection of sports, politics and business. They claim he was involved in a scheme to cover up failed doping tests and was the conduit for vote-buying in competitions to host major sporting events, including the Olympics.

Millions of dollars in illicit payments have been transferred through accounts controlled by Diack or his associates, according to prosecutors in Brazil and France, which in January 2016 issued an international arrest warrant for him.

His father, Lamine Diack, one of the most powerful men in sports during his 16-year reign as the head of the International Association of Athletics Federations, known as IAAF, has been detained in France since November 2015 over allegations that he accepted bribes for covering up doping violations for Russian athletes.

Most recently, connections to the Diacks led to the arrest of Carlos Arthur Nuzman, head of Brazil’s Olympic committee, amid suspicions that Rio de Janeiro’s successful bid to stage the 2016 Summer Games was helped by a $2 million payment to the younger Diack, acting as an intermediary for his father, who could be relied upon to secure the votes of the other African members of the International Olympic Committee.

Over nearly three hours at the Pullman Teranga, Diack described all the accusations as being born of racism and jealousy, part of an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy to tarnish the legacy of his father. He also said he believed the case was part of a power game between the World Anti-Doping Agency and the IOC.

“Saying Lamine Diack and his son were racketing in athletes, after 22 months of investigation, where are the proofs?” Diack said. “Just press articles. If they had evidence, they would have gone to court.

“It’s a problem for a black man, an African person, to be so successful after 16 years of stewardship of the IAAF.”

The evidence against Diack includes cash transfers and emails revealed in Brazil after authorities there accused officials of paying Diack and others to secure votes to host the 2016 Rio Olympics.

French financial crimes investigators traced payments of $2 million from a Brazilian businessmen to bank accounts controlled by Diack around the time Rio was picked to host the Olympics. On the same day as the vote, Diack transferred about $300,000 to Frankie Fredericks, a former sprinter from Namibia and rising star of the Olympic movement who happened to be one of three people scrutinising the vote.

Diack called it an unfortunate coincidence. The Brazilians were paying to sponsor a new relay event being created for the IAAF, and Diack was a marketing consultant for the organisation.

That claim contrasts with those of Maria Celeste Pedrosa, Nuzman’s secretary. In a deposition given to investigators in Rio, Pedrosa said the money was supposedly to pay for the construction of tracks in Africa and questioned why it had to be paid to a Diack-controlled bank account in Russia.

The payment to Fredericks was related to a debt owed for doing promotional work for track and field sponsors, Diack said. An inquiry into Fredericks’ conduct is continuing. The relay event the Brazilians were supposedly sponsoring never took place there.

“Papa Diack said it, record it, state it: Lamine Diack and Frankie Fredericks voted for Tokyo,” said Diack, declaring that his father had preferred Tokyo’s pitch for the 2016 Summer Games over Rio’s.

Rio ended up beating Madrid in a final runoff. “Whoever says the contrary is lying,” he said, “and I’m ready to be challenged by my father.”

Prosecutors have also identified myriad other payments they say are linked to the corruption scheme, including large transfers to jewellery stores in Paris and Qatar. The allegations are purely circumstantial, Diack said, and can be refuted by documents and contracts he has. Asked to reveal them, he said: “My friend, that I will give to a prosecutor. I will not give it to a journalist.”

The scandal has not kept Diack from continuing his business activities and securing contracts for his company, Pamodzi Sports Marketing, an entity that has been linked to several of the arrangements that prosecutors described as bribery.

Diack is now focusing his attention on global soccer, an industry far more lucrative than track and field, and one that has led to trouble in the past. He was briefly jailed after allegations that thousands of dollars of sponsorship money for the Senegal men’s national soccer team had gone missing. Diack said he spent nine days in prison before being cleared of wrongdoing.

Senegal is continuing to resist the request from France to extradite Diack. Last year, the Senegalese prime minister said the country would “never surrender a son.” The case could drag on for years.
 
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