Emails: 'Total protection' cover-up shielded Russian cheats

November 25, 2016

PARIS (AP) A doping cover-up dubbed the ''total protection project'' shielded Russian medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics, allowing them to compete when they should have been banned, according to emails seized by French prosecutors.

The emails published Friday by French newspaper Le Monde and German broadcaster ARD suggest the scale of suspected wrongdoing involving Russian track and field and officials who were then at the IAAF, the sport's global governing body, may have been broader than previously thought.

In a July 2014 message, which ARD published on its website, former Russian athletics federation head Valentin Balakhnichev wrote of ''cynical and cruel blackmail'' by IAAF officials and threatened to expose them. Doing so would leave ''a huge black spot'' on the IAAF and destroy careers, Balakhnichev warned in the email.

''We will not remain silent. It was not us who started this game. It was the IAAF project and the IAAF shall be the key victim of future scandal,'' said the email published by ARD.

''We have enough evidence to prove criminal activities of the IAAF people,'' it added.

Another letter said to have been written by Balakhnichev in June 2014 alleged that IAAF representatives invented the ''total protection'' moniker for the cover-up scheme, Le Monde reported.

''We think the only way to avoid an enormous scandal about the covering up of numerous anti-doping violations, implicating numerous IAAF officials, is to continue to keep the situation `under the table,' as has been the case all these years,'' Le Monde quoted the letter as saying.

Balakhnichev, who has been banned from the sport for life for his role in the extortion of Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova, said he could not comment in detail when contacted by The Associated Press.

Le Monde said the emails were seized at the Paris area home of lawyer Habib Cisse, who was the legal adviser to then IAAF President Lamine Diack. Diack is now under investigation in France on money laundering and corruption charges related to doping cover-ups. Cisse also is under investigation, on suspicion of receiving payments.

Le Monde reported that another seized note alleged that one of Diack's sons, former IAAF marketing consultant Papa Massata Diack, had asked for between 300,000 euros ($318,000) and 700,000 euros ($743,000) to cover up cases involving five Russian athletes, aside from Shobukhova.

Papa Massata Diack, who lives in Senegal, is wanted in France for questioning and is subject to an Interpol request for his arrest.