Investigation by Richard McLaren finds weightlifting corruption ‘at the highest levels’

June 11, 2020

An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) by Western Law Professor Richard McLaren has found evidence of decades of corruption, doping coverups, favouritism, and financial mismanagement.

The results of the investigation were released by McLaren during a press conference over Zoom on June 5. A written report was also released by McLaren Global Sport Solutions that includes 122 pages of findings from a multi-disciplinary team. This team was comprised of experts in forensic analysis, financial investigations, money laundering, doping violations, and laboratory regulation and processes, according to McLaren.

“Overall, I found an organization that had been subject to, for close to half a century, an autocratic leader who dictated, through various control mechanisms, everything that occurred within the organization.”

He added that 81-year-old IWF President Tamás Aján’s “obsession with control created a culture of fear” and that other IWF officials demonstrated “a constant fear of reprisal by the president.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, McLaren and his Chief Investigator, Martin Dubbey, found that Aján took extraordinary measures to retain power over the federation, including offering cash bribes to member federations. “The delegate had to take a picture of the completed ballot and show the vote broker this evidence before receiving the cash bribe,” said McLaren.

But Aján didn’t just attempt to control the presidential elections. He also made sure he had exclusive control of all the federation’s financial aspects.

McLaren said his investigation turned up proof of hidden bank accounts, the endless transferring of funds from one bank to another and from one currency to another. At times, the doping cash fines Aján collected were even moved across international borders.

In the end, some of this cash was accounted for, but McLaren’s team has determined that at least $10.4 million was not. “Without records, receipts, and paper audit trails, it is absolutely impossible to determine how much of the cash collected was used for legitimate expenses,” said McLaren.

Perhaps the most troubling finding was that athletes – including gold and silver medalists – who had participated in doping continued to compete because their samples were either neglected outright or not acted upon for up to a year.

McLaren noted that while the process of interviewing witnesses and other individuals with first-hand knowledge was significantly hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of member federation presidents and general secretaries didn’t respond when contacted by investigators. Additionally, only one athlete agreed to speak.

Some people “actively attempted to deceive and frustrate the investigation process,” said McLaren.

These allegations, which sparked worldwide concern over the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in weightlifting, surfaced in a docuseries titled “Der Herr de Heber” – or “Lord of the Lifters” – by German state-owned television network, ARD.

Aján was immediately suspended for 90 days and a new acting president, Ursula Garza Papandrea, was appointed. Aján has denied any wrongdoing but officially resigned from his position in April.

“It is time to turn the page and begin a new era for weightlifting,” said McLaren.

You can read our original story on Professor McLaren’s investigation appointment here.