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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Former biathlon boss indicted

The 77-year-old Norwegian who formerly headed the International Biathlon Union (IBU) for many years has been indicted on corruption charges. Authorities accuse Anders Besseberg of accepting bribes in the form of expensive watches, hunting trips and prostitutes.

Anders Besseberg of Norway controlled the International Biathlon Union (IBU) for 26 years. Now he’s under indictment after a lengthy investigation into corruption charges. PHOTO: IBU

Charges first made public in 2018 prompted Besseberg to give up his longtime IBU post five years ago. He continues to deny guilt in the case.

Senior Public Prosecutor Marianne Djupesland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the indictment obtained by Norway’s economic crime unit Økokrim accuses him of aggravated corruption from 2009 to 2018.

“Økokrim believes there is sufficient evidence to prove that he (Besseberg) accepted bribes continuously over a 10-year period,” stated Djupesland in a press release on Monday. She added that the “seriousness of the matter is emphasized by the breach of trust his actions represent in light of his position as president of the IBU.”

The indictment is based on a series of “concrete” incidents, reports NRK. Prosecutors claim they have evidence that Besseberg accepted, for example, an Omega watch worth NOK 195,000 in 2011. He is also believed to have accepted, in 2013, the services of a prostitute “acquired for him” while he was in Moscow in connection with a biathlon exhibition event prior to the Olympics in Russia in 2014.

He’s believed to also have received another expensive watch in 2013 (this one a Hublot valued at NOK 70,000) in addition to a hunting trip in Russia, to which he was flown by helicopter. The group stayed at a “hunting resort” in Tjumen from where they hunted moose, wild boar and deer.

In 2014, during the Biathlon World Cup at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Besseberg allegedly accepted yet another watch (a Ulysses Nardin valued at NOK 78,000) and another hunting trip and trophy the year after that. He allegedly had a “standing agreement” on hunting trips from 2009 to 2018, including gifts of trophies from the hunts.

Between 2015 and 2018 he allegedly accepted the services of prostitutes, in one case a woman “for several days and nights … probably in March 2016” in Khanty-Mansijsk in connection with an IBU World Cup event, and in March 2018 in Tjumen in connection with the IBU World Cup final.

All the alleged gifts and services were accepted from “authorities within Russian biathlon” and from AFP/Infront, which, according to the indictment, had an agreement with the IBU regarding marketing and sponsor rights to IBU’s biathlon events or were negotiating such rights. The indictment also notes that Infront paid for the leasing costs (NOK 850,000) of a BMW X5 that Besseberg used from his home in Norway for the period from 2011 to 2018.

Prosecutors claim that by accepting all this, Besseberg “violated the confidence” attached to his top post at the IBU because he acted at odds with IBU regulations and made himself vulnerable to making decisions on behalf of Russian biathlon and APF/Infront.

Besseberg, a former biathlon skier himself, held the post of IBU president for 26 years, from 1992 until he was first charged with corruption in 2018. It’s taken Norwegian prosecutors five years to find and interview several of those involved in the case in several different countries. Økokrim has also cooperated with police in Austria and authorities in the Czech Republic, Licdhtenstein and Canada.

Djupesland stressed that “this is an indictment, not a conviction,” which will now be sent to the court in Buskerud that has jurisdiction in Besseberg’s home district. He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Besseberg’s defense attorney Christian B Hjort told news bureau NTB on Monday that Besseberg continues to claim that “he never has allowed himself to be bribed or tried to influence the IBU’s anti-doping work for the advantage of anyone.”

Hjort also told NRK that the charges against Besseberg, initially filed after raids on IBU offies and his home at Vestfossen west of Oslo, “have been an enormous burden” on both him and his family. “He has lived for five years with extremely serious charges against himself,” Hjort said, adding that earlier charges that Besseberg tried to influence anti-doping investigations and received large sums of cash are not included in the indictment, and he’s pleased by that.

“But what remains in the indictment is also serious,” Hjort said. “He looks forward to clarify his position on that in court, and he has faith there is no foundation for them either.”

The IBU itself has also investigated allegations against Besseberg and reported on Monday that it has worked closely with Økokrim on the Besseberg case. The sports organization has vowed to give its “full support” to investigating authorities. “This is a dark period that’s been described,” IBU President Olle Dahlin told NRK, adding that it’s led to many reforms within the organization.

All involved seek a conclusion to the long-running case. If convicted, “this will be the most humiliating verdict any Norwegian sports leader has ever received,” said NRK sports commentator Jan Petter Saltvedt. Berglund



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