The unmasking of Lamine Diack as one of the great sinners in the history of sport began with a police raid on All Saints’ Day in 2015. At this point Diack, the head of global athletics for 16 years and a distinguished figure at the International Olympic Committee, had yet to be implicated in a growing scandal involving the Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova, who had secretly paid €450,000 to senior figures at the International Association of Athletics Federations to hide a doping ban.
But everything changed on that unseasonably warm November day. When police arrested Diack in his room at the Sheraton hotel at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, they also uncovered his computer, which housed a treasure trove of secrets. And nearly five years later it has finally led to Diack – along with five other former senior figures at athletics’ governing body – being convicted of corruption.
Among the crucial police discoveries that day was a strictly confidential email from his son Papa Massata Diack sent in 2013, warning him that some at the IAAF were questioning why several Russians were competing at the world championships in Moscow despite having failed doping tests. At the time the Diacks were able to keep a lid on their scheme following what Papa Massata called “lobbying and explanation work” with IAAF staff. Eventually it would blow spectacularly open.
The more French investigators began to dig, the more they realised that Shobukhova was far from a lone case. In fact under a scheme devised by Diack Sr, dubbed “full protection”, 22 other Russian athletes paid between €100,000 and €600,000 in exchange for having their doping bans hushed up so they could compete at the London 2012 Olympics and in Moscow a year later. Diack Sr had known all along.
Another email uncovered by investigators detailed the price lists for each Russian, which were provided by Diack Jr. In total, €3.2m was made, of which €600,000 came back to Diack Sr’s lawyer, Habib Cissé, as “legal aid” – while the IAAF’s head of anti-doping, Gabriel Dollé, was also paid by the Diacks to look the other way.
After sentencing Diack Sr to four years in prison – two of which are suspended – and fining him €500,000, the judge, Rose-Marie Hunault, told the court in Paris: “The €3.2m was paid in exchange for a program of ‘full protection’,” adding the scheme allowed athletes who should have been suspended “purely and simply to escape sanctions. You violated the rules of the game.”
Diack Sr, who was convicted of active and passive corruption and breach of trust, has said he will appeal. Diack Jr, who was tried in absentia on charges of money laundering and breach of trust because Senegal refuses to extradite him, was sentenced to five years in prison and fined €1m.
In sentencing Diack Jr, the judge said $15m had been funnelled to his companies while his father was in charge at the IAAF. The judge added that the Diacks had worked together in diverting funds, telling Diack Sr that there was “an understanding between you and your son”.
Incredibly, investigators also found evidence Diack Sr had agreed the “full protection” agreement with senior Russian politicians in exchange for funding to help his friend Macky Sall win the 2012 Senegalese presidential election.
In the French prosecutors’ files, it is alleged that the “full protection” deal was done around the time of a lunch at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow in November 2011, just after Diack Sr was awarded the Friendship medal by the then president, Dmitry Medvedev. Those present included the then Russian sports minister, Vladimir Mutko, along with Lamine Diack, Papa Massata Diack, Cissé, and the former IAAF treasurer Valentin Balachnikev.
In Paris on Wednesday Cissé was also sent to prison for three years and fined €100,000, while Dollé was handed a two-year suspended sentence and a €144,000 fine. Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov, the former head distance coach of the Russian national team, were also found guilty and given jail terms.
The Paris criminal court also awarded what is now World Athletics €16m for embezzled funds and for reputational damage suffered as a direct consequence of these crimes and the resulting media coverage.
In a statement World Athletics said it would “do everything we can to recover the monies awarded, and return them to the organisation for the development of athletics globally”. The governing body surely will try, although few hold out much hope it will succeed.
It is highly unlikely that we have heard that last of the Diacks, given they are also being investigated on suspicions of corruption in the awarding of the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro and the 2020 Games to Tokyo. Whatever happens in the future, though, the notoriety of both men is surely assured.