Lamine Diack, the former head of athletics’ governing body, thanked his supporters especially those in Senegal after coming out of a morning hearing in a Paris court on Monday.
Diack, who turned 87 on Sunday (June 7), is standing trial on charges of corruption, money laundering and breach of trust linked to a Russian doping scandal.
Prosecutors allege he solicited 3.45 million euros ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected of doping to cover up the allegations and allow them to continue competing, including in the 2012 London Olympics.
“He is someone who is very calm and sincere, and it must not be believed that because wire transfers were enacted, and that we’re speaking of a large amount of money, that there is necessarily corruption,” one of Diack’s lawyers, Simon Ndiaye, said.
Diack, from Senegal, led the governing International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), now renamed World Athletics, from 1999-2015 and was among the most influential men in the sport. He lives under house arrest in Paris and faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years if convicted.
The trial had been due to start in January but was postponed after new documents containing testimony from his son and co-defendant, Papa Massata Diack, were submitted to the court.
Senegal has refused to extradite Papa Massata, who worked as a marketing consultant for the IAAF. He also faces charges of money laundering, corruption and breach of trust, according to the indictment, and will be tried in absentia.
Investigators at the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) describe a web of corruption in world athletics under Diack’s leadership.
One of the civil parties in the case, French marathon runner Christelle Daunay, has accused the IAAF of protecting athletes like Russian long-distance runner Liliya Shubukova, who was later suspended for doping. She said the suspension came too late, and athletes like were robbed of a podium finish, and the prize money that went with it.
The other defendants are Habib Cisse, Diack’s former lawyer at the IAAF; Gabriel Dolle, who oversaw doping tests at the IAAF; and Russians Valentin Balakhnitchev and Alexei Melnikov, who were Russia’s athletics’ federation chief and head athletics coach respectively at the time of the alleged cover-up.
Balakhnitchev and Melnikov were not in court.