The International Weightlifting Federation has been thrown into chaos with the Tamas Ajan scandal Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The dirty world of corruption in sports has taken yet another quirky twist with the McLaren Independent Investigation Team (MIIT) announcing that it was the Asian, African and Oceanic Member Federations that were the ‘swing votes’ that ensured the long reign of Tamas Ajan as President of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

Ajan earned a record fifth term as IWF president following the last election held in 2017, but the 81-year-old Romanian was forced to resign in April this year after being accused of corruption in a German television documentary.

The report — spearheaded by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren — said that interviews with confidential witnesses had led the MIIT to learn that the Asian, African and Oceanic members were the ones Ajan influenced and bribed.

 Tamas Ajan
Tamas Ajan Image Credit: Reuters

It has now come to pass that as per the MIIT report, Ajan took more than $600,000 (Dh2.2 million) in cash to successive IWF electoral congresses, and spent much of it on bribes to buy votes.

The McLaren team revealed how Ajan twice defeated Antonio Urso, the Italian who stood against him in 2013 and 2017, with the help of bribes. After Ajan won the 2017 election in Bangkok, Thailand, member federation delegates reportedly queued up in a hotel corridor to be paid $5,000 in bribes by Major General Intarat Yodbangtoey, the IWF’s first vice-president and Ajan’s second-in-command.

“In 2017, Ajan secured his Presidency through an agreement with certain African and Asian federations, who were originally standing against him. The bribes ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 per vote and, specific to the 2017 election, members were lavished with trips on private cruise ships and stays in five-star hotels before the election,” McLaren has disclosed.

Other delegates, already onside, were treated lavishly and housed in a separate hotel from the Congress venue, to prevent them switching support. “The extent of vote brokering at electoral and continental congresses demonstrates a shocking and scandalous level of institutionalised corruption,” McLaren’s report added.

McLaren further affirmed that national federations “seem to accept it as part of the culture of the IWF, and little, if anything has been done to stop these corrupt practices”.

Ajan was complicit not just in buying votes for himself, but also for other positions of influence on the Executive Board so he was surrounded by a strong team of supporters, the investigating team has found.

Ma Wenguang, the Chinese who lost his role as General Secretary at the 2017 election, disclosed in his confessions that Ajan “was able to use the full weight of the IWF resources to get re-elected, while opponents had to use their own limited personal resources”.

The report has further disclosed that Ajan is “the only person with exclusive control of the IWF bank accounts, collection and handling of cash membership fees and member doping fines, and the ability to withdraw cash from the IWF bank accounts”.

McLaren, who played the lead role in investigating state-sponsored cheating in Russian sport, further said that there was suspicion of rigged voting at continental federations too, including the Pan American elections held earlier this year.

In the meantime, Ursula Papandrea from the US, who had been appointed as the IWF’s Interim President insisted that no board members implicated in the report would be able to take part in any further meetings that discuss vote-buying making the ousting of some members inevitable.

Papandrea and her three colleagues on the Oversight and Integrity Commission will now study a further confidential report from the McLaren team — including the names of those who paid or received bribes — before deciding on the next steps.

Documentary evidence 

The delegation of bribed officials [in 2017] had passed through Doha, Qatar on May 27, 2017 travelling as a group with Qatar Airlines onwards to Thailand.

Upon their arrival, this bribed voting bloc was driven to a different hotel from the one where all other members attending the Congress were staying.

The bribed voting bloc was kept quarantined from the rest of the Electoral Congress until the very morning of the election to curb any possibility of the members switching their vote at the last minute.

The financial forensic tracing of the IWF bank accounts show that the President had the total of $405,000 and $218,000 available to him at the time of the Moscow 2013 and Bangkok 2017 electoral congresses, respectively.

The evidence of vote-rigging was taken from the hard drive of IWF Director General Attila Adamfi, who is also Ajan’s son-in-law.

The names of Ajan’s ‘Anointed Executive Board members’ (termed ‘aide memoire’ by McLaren) were written down to ensure bribed delegates voted for the right people.

The ‘aide memoire’ was forwarded to the bribed voting bloc, indicating the top eight senior positions with Ajan top of the list.

To further ensure that there could be no doubt as to how the bribed voting bloc should vote, in the final column titled ‘VOTE’, a printed ‘X’ was placed against each of the candidates’ names.

The names entered on the ‘aide memoire’ for the top eight positions were not only similar to draft lists extracted from Adamfi’s hard drives, but also matched exactly the final ballot result as published subsequently by the IWF.