By Simon Carraud
PARIS (Reuters) – French judges on Monday adjourned the trial of Lamine Diack, the disgraced former head of athletics’ governing body IAAF who faces charges of corruption and money laundering linked to a Russian doping scandal.
Less than an hour after the hearing began, the trial was halted for procedural reasons and postponed until an unknown date.
The trial’s opening came five years after prosecutors began their investigation into Diack, from Senegal, who now lives under house arrest in Paris. Investigators have described a web of corruption that was rife in world athletics, including bribes and extortion to cover up positive drug tests.
Diack, 86, has denied wrongdoing. His lawyers said the accusations were baseless.
“He is someone who dedicated almost his entire life to the public and to sport,” Diack lawyer Simon Ndiaye told Reuters.
Diack’s co-accused include his son, Papa Massata, who worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF, now known as World Athletics. Senegal has refused to extradite Papa Massata and he is being tried in absentia.
The trial had been expected to last two weeks. But prosecutors sought the adjournment after receiving several “rather voluminous” documents on Monday from the Senegalese judiciary.
They include the transcript from a November interrogation of Papa Massata and bank documents.
Money laundering alone carries a jail term of up to 10 years in France.
Diack, who led the IAAF from 1999-2015, was one of the most influential men in athletics. His arrest plunged the sport’s governing body into an unprecedented crisis.
Prosecutors began their investigation after the IAAF’s ethics commission and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) uncovered evidence a Russian marathon runner paid 600,000 euros ($683,000) to cover up a positive drug test, allowing her to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Prosecutors highlighted what they described as the “extremely complacent” attitude of the IAAF toward the Russian athletics federation.
Diack acknowledges discussions with the Russians, but denies sanctions were waived in return for personal benefit, his lawyer said.
In a separate case, French prosecutors are investigating alleged bribes related to the Olympics and World Athletics Championships. They suspect Tokyo’s bidding committee bribed the Diacks in 2013 to secure votes, which the committee has denied.
Under scrutiny is the role of Dentsu Inc, Japan’s largest advertising agency, and its Swiss-based business partner, Athletics Management & Services AG (AMS).
For nearly two decades, Dentsu has partnered with the IAAF to market media and sponsorship rights across most of the world, while delegating some regions and responsibilities to AMS. In 2014, Dentsu and the IAAF extended their rights agreement through 2029.
Sebastian Coe, Diack’s successor, has undertaken to rebuild trust in athletics and introduced changes to the sport’s governance.
(Reporting by Simon Carraud; Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris and Nathan Layne in New York; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Giles Elgood)