TORONTO (Reuters) – The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) was plagued by decades of corruption orchestrated by autocratic former president Tamas Ajan, said Richard McLaren after he led an independent investigation into the governing body.
McLaren, the Canadian law professor whose findings in July 2016 led to Russia being banned from all international athletic competitions, including the Rio Olympics, told reporters on Thursday that the IWF was rife with corruption.
This included vote buying, doping cover-ups and $10.4 million in cash that cannot be accounted for.
Ajan has denied any wrongdoing.
“I found an organisation that had been subject for close to half a century to an autocratic leader who dictated through various control mechanisms everything that occurred within the organisation,” McLaren said in a Zoom conference.
“His (Ajan) obsession with control made it a culture of fear that prevented a vibrant and robust sports administration.
“We found systemic government failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF.”
The 81-year-old Hungarian Ajan had been at the IWF since the mid 70s, serving first as secretary general and then as president from 2000 until his resignation in April.
The 121-page report was both scathing and meticulous in detailing the massive scale of corruption within the IWF while it was ruled by Ajan, who used “the tyranny of cash” as his main control mechanism.
The investigation found the primary sources of this cash were doping fines paid personally to Ajan and withdrawals of large amounts of money from the IWF’s accounts, usually made just prior to major competitions or IWF congresses.
“It is absolutely impossible to determine how much of the cash collected or withdrawn was used for legitimate expenses,” said McLaren.
“The McLaren Independent Investigation Team has determined that $10.4 million USD is unaccounted for.”
McLaren described the IWF financial records as a “jumble of incomplete and inaccurate figures distorted by a failure to accurately record cash expenditures and revenues and disclose hidden bank accounts by Dr. Ajan”.
The investigation found that some of that money was used for vote buying for the President and senior level positions of the Executive Board at the two most recent Electoral Congresses.
During the investigation McLaren’s team also uncovered doping infractions with 40 positive adverse analytical findings hidden in the IWF records.
These include gold and silver medallists who have not had their samples dealt with.
McLaren said this information had been passed on to WADA for further investigation.
The uncovering of 40 doping cases triggered outrage from United States Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart, who noted that Ajan was at one time a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Foundation Board.
“The investigative report released today is yet another devastating blow to the credibility of sport governance and the global anti-doping system,” said Tygart in a statement.
The culture of fear within the IWF continued even after Ajan’s resignation.
McLaren said only two of five vice-presidents came forward, two of eight members of the executive board and just one of five presidents of continental federations.
“The appetite for members and stakeholders of the IWF to come forward was practically non-existent,” said McLaren.
On a visit to IWF headquarters in Budapest, 45 days after Ajan had been suspended, McLaren said his team found the former president still in his office.
“We witnessed him still carrying on with business as usual running the office, organising an executive board meeting having meetings with IWF financial advisors,” said McLaren.
The IWF has been in an unwanted spotlight for some time and had its places at the Tokyo Olympics reduced and is only provisionally included on the 2024 Summer Games programme.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had started its own investigation earlier this year, prompting Ajan to resign as an Honorary Member.
The IOC said in statement it would support IWF reforms and work with WADA to determine whether there were any doping cases concerning the Olympic Games.
McLaren’s findings could also trigger more investigations and result in criminal charges.
“Any allegations that need to be forwarded to other agencies will be forwarded whether that is WADA or law enforcement,” IWF acting president Ursula Papandrea told reporters. “I think the report speaks for itself.
“What I can say is the activities that have been revealed and the behaviour that has occurred is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, additional reporting by Amy Tennery. Editing by Toby Davis/Pritha Sarkar/Ken Ferris)