Police and athletics organizations in Norway and Austria are evaluating serious charges against Anders Besseberg, the Norwegian who was president of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) for nearly 26 years. Besseberg has been accused by the IBU’s independent External Review Comission (ERC) of favouring and protecting Russian interests, “particularly in the anti-doping context,” after Russian biathlon leaders allegedly provided him with prostitutes, expensive watches and hunting trips.
The report, released late last week, was described by the IBU as the result of an “exhaustive investigation” over the past two years, since Besseberg’s home was first raided by Norwegian police and charges were filed against him. Besseberg’s former secretary general Nicole Resch also faces charges, resulting from what current IBU leaders call “the complete lack of basic governance safeguards” that enabled the former IBU leadership “to operate without checks and balances, without transparency and without accountability.”
The report discloses that Besseberg allegedly admitted to police that he accepted the services of prostitutes in Russia without paying for them himself. Besseberg said he didn’t know who paid for a prostitute in one episode in Moscow between 2010 and 2014, adding “she was sent by someone, probably from the organizing committee.”
Besseberg, now age 74, has previously denied all the corruption charges against him and he’s currently staying mum. He refused to comment on the new report to the IBU, which its officials called “shocking,” as long as the case against him is under investigation. “He maintains that there is no foundation for the corruption complaints aganst him,” Besseberg’s Norwegian defense attorney Christian Hjort wrote in an email to Oslo newspaper VG.
Besseberg’s Austrian attorney also defended his client, writing in an email to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Besseburg has never asked for or received money, gifts or other services, neither from Russian officials or anyone else.
Allegedly helped Russians conceal doping
He’s alleged, however, to have worked “systematically” for Russian interests. He’s accused of helping Russian sports officials to conceal doping in the ERC’s 220-page detailed report that concentrates on violations of the IBU’s own internal regulations and ethical guidelines.
He’s earlier been charged with corruption by the economic crime unit of the Norwegian police (Økokrim), which continues to investigate as do police in Austria, where the IBU is based. He’s under investigation in Austria for violation of anti-doping laws and fraud.
“We don’t have the same penal law regarding doping that Austria has,” Trude Stanghelle of Økokrim told Aftenposten. “We chose to investigate corruption by Anders Besseberg.” He was later charged and Norwegian police continue to investigate whether there’s grounds for an indictment.
Norway’s own biathlon organization, Norges Skiskytterforbund, was shaken by the report against the man widely credited for making biathlon a popular international winter sport. “It claims he covered up systematic Russian doping and, massive unethical behaviour by IBU’s leadership,” Arne Horten, president of Norway’s biathlon federation, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Their conclusions can’t be misunderstood. We’re impressed by the the comprehensive work laid down in this case, and hope it will contribute to more openness and an even stronger anti-doping regime within sports.”
Norway’s national athletics organization (Norges idrettsforbund) is also pondering charges against Besseberg, and stripping him of his honorary membership. It remained unclear, however, whether he can be punished by Norwegian organizations for something he allegedly did while leading an international organization in another country.
Current IBU officials stress that the organization has since “strengthened its constitution” and put in place safeguards “to minimize the chances of wrongdoing like this recurring.”