France issues arrest warrants for two Russian ex-athletics officials: Sources

PARIS (AFP) – France has issued arrest warrants for two former senior Russian athletics officials in an investigation into a doping cover-up, sources told AFP on Tuesday (March 19).

The two men targeted are Valentin Balakhnichev, the former head of Russian athletics who was also treasurer of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and Alexei Melnikov, a former Russian national team coach.

In the same probe, French investigating magistrates issued a warrant in 2017 for Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF president Lamine Diack.

Lamine Diack was charged at the time with taking millions of dollars to cover up failed Russian doping tests along with two other IAAF officials.

His son, a marketing consultant widely known as PMD, has been on Interpol’s most wanted list since December 2015 but is taking shelter in Dakar as the Senegalese government refuses to extradite him to France.

Diack senior was in charge of world athletics from 1999 until he was arrested in France in 2015.

French investigating magistrates charged him for a second time in June last year, accusing him of allowing his son to “appropriate IAAF receipts from sponsors” including Samsung, Chinese TV channel CCTV, Chinese energy firm Sinopec, Russian bank VTB and the Abu Dhabi Corporation, according to information about the hearing received by AFP.

France has undertaken the investigation because it believes some of the funds were laundered in France.

The IAAF suspended Russia in November 2015 after the eruption of a vast state-sponsored doping scandal.

Russia was allowed back into the Olympic fold a year ago but the IAAF continues to ban Russian athletes from competing under their own flag.

Speaking to Russian media, Balakhnichev said he considered the French arrest warrant to be baseless.

“I’m not in the know. I just don’t know how to react to it,” Balakhnichev told TASS agency.

He said Russian investigators who had probed the case had not accused him of any wrongdoing.

“I cannot comment on the case as I’m not in the know about what they are blaming me for,” Interfax agency quoted Balakhnichev as saying.

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