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Investigation finds doping coverups, alleged embezzlement in weightlifting

An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping coverups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

Labels IWF president Tamas Ajan as "autocratic leader" who kept board in dark about finances

An investigation found 40 positive doping tests were "hidden" in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events (Mike Groll/Associated Press/file photo)

An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping coverups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were "hidden" in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF," McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report "very carefully," adding that "the content is deeply concerning."

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was "an autocratic leader" who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team's analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It's unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

Hidden bank accounts

"Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts [and transfers]," McLaren said. "Some cash was accounted for, some was not."

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement "might be interested in," and that he would co-operate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan's successor at the IWF.

"The activities that have been revealed and the behaviour that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal," IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were "potential crimes."

McLaren said Ajan "permitted the [federation] elections to be bought by vote brokers" as he kept the presidency and promoted favoured officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

McLaren's investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping coverups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

WADA welcomes findings

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren's findings.

"Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take," it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA's lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting's reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

There was no immediate response from Ajan to the allegations made in McLaren's report, though he has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan's home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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