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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Disgraced biathlon boss sentenced to prison

Anders Besseberg, the Norwegian sports bureaucrat who headed the International Biathlon Union (IBU) for 25 years, has fallen victim to the expensive watches, prostitutes and hunting trips he accepted from foreign officials, mostly Russian. A court in Norway ruled Friday that it all amounted to serious corruption, and both fined and sentenced him to prison.

Anders Besseberg, the former long-time president of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) refused to be photographed during his lengthy court trial. This photo was taken in 2015, when he was still the powerful boss of the organization. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“The defendant has exhibited an exteme lack of understanding regarding his position (as IBU president) and insight into himself,” declared Judge Vidar Toftøy-Lohne in the regional court in Hokksund, which covers the region where Besseberg lives, southwest of Oslo.

The court convicted him on nine of the 10 charges filed against him after a lengthy investigation by state prosecutors, and sentenced him to three years and one month in prison. The economic crimes unit of the Norwegian Police, Økokrim, had also demanded repayment of allegedly ill-gotten gains totalling the equivalent of NOK 1.41 million.

Besseberg, now 78 years old, appealed on the spot. “I am disappointed and surprised by the verdict and also some of the reasons for it,” Besseberg said after the judge had asked him whether he understood the results of a trial that went on for several weeks earlier this year. It had taken several hours to read the court’s verdict aloud.

“We strongly disagree with the result and the reasons for it,” Besseberg’s defense attorney Mikkel Toft Gimse told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We are surprised over how he wasn’t believed at all. They chose to put all weight behind what worked against him, but overlooked everything in his favour.”

Besseberg was long credited with developing biathlon into athe popular international sport that combines cross-country skiing with shooting. He was an active participant in the sport himself, from 1966-1974, and then became coach of Norway’s national team from 1976-1980. He took over as IBU president in 1993 and is viewed as the architect behind such competitive events as biathlon relays and pursuits, with newspaper Dagsavisen reporting that he took the sport to new heights during his presidency.

Besseberg’s fall from grace began in 2018, when he had to resign as IBU president following a raid on his home in Vestfossen. Investigators found expensive watches and trophies from hunting trips that had been paid for mostly by Russian officials, at the same time doping scandals hung over the sport. Prosecutors equated the watches, lavish hunting trips to which Besseberg had been treated, and high-end hotel stays to bribes, along with the services of female prostitutes.

That set off a lengthy investigation that also involved raids on the IBU’s headquarters in Salzburg, Austria. Among the various counts in the charges against him were his acceptance of an Omega watch valued at NOK 195,000 in 2011, the services of a prostitute while Besseberg was in Moscow for a biathlon show prior to the Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014 and his acceptance of a Hublot watch worth NOK 70,000 in 2013, all from Russian officials.

In April 2013 and October 2015, Besseberg was treated to a hunting- and fishing trip to a lodge at Tjumen in Russia, including helicopter transport to and from. Besseberg accepted another expensive watch, a Ulysses Nardin, from a Russian biathlon officials during closing ceremonies of the World Cup at Holmenkollen in Oslo in 2014. Besseberg also allegedly accepted offers of prostitutes on several occasions between 2015 and 2018. He also accepted use of a BMW at his home in Norway from 2011-2018, paid for by a firm called Infront. Besseberg was indicted last year.

Arne Horten, current president of Norway’s own biathlon federation (Norges Skiskytterforbund, NSSF), was shaken by all the convictions against Besseberg on Friday, and told NRK that the federation “strongly distances itself” from acceptance of such gifts and services. “These are undoubtedly serious things he’s now been convicted of,” Horten told NRK. “This is serious given our ethical guidelines and the IBU’s guidelines.” Others blame Besseberg for ruining everything he’d helped build up for the sport and its reputation.

Horten said he could understand, however, that Besseberg quickly appealed. “He faces a long prison term and he wanted to be acquitted on all counts,” Horten said. “I don’t think that’s surprising.”

While Besseberg’s attorneys are ready for a new court battle, it’s now up to the appeals court to decide whether it will take up the case.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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