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Norway's ex-biathlon boss jailed for three years for corruption

AFP
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Norway's ex-biathlon boss jailed for three years for corruption
A Norwegian court sentenced a former international biathlon boss to prison for three years and one month for accepting bribes, primarily from Russian officials, including luxury watches, prostitutes and hunting trips. Pictured is a hammer and gavel. Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

A Norwegian court on Friday sentenced a former international biathlon boss to prison for three years and one month for accepting bribes, primarily from Russian officials, including luxury watches, prostitutes and hunting trips.

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Norwegian Anders Besseberg, the 78-year-old head of the International Biathlon Union from 1993 to 2018, was found guilty of nine of 10 counts of aggravated corruption during the period 2009-2018, charges he denied.

"I am of course disappointed and surprised about the verdict and some of the judges' reasoning. I am appealing on the spot," Besseberg told the court after the judge read out the 67-page verdict over the course of almost three hours.

"The defendant breached the trust that came with his position at the IBU by accepting the benefits," judge Vidar Toftoy-Lohne at the Buskerud district court said.

The prosecution hailed the verdict.

"There is a lot of money in circulation in international elite sport. The federations manage substantial financial assets and make decisions that are important for both athletes and the business community," prosecutor Marianne Djupesland said in a statement.

"We hope this verdict can contribute to raising awareness and that it will have a preventive effect," she said.

Prosecutors had sought a jail term of three years and seven months and a fine of one million kroner ($95,000).

The court did not hand down a fine, but ordered Besseberg to return gifts amounting to 1.4 million kroner.

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Besseberg admitted accepting gifts but dismissed the notion that corruption was involved.

"Even if I received expensive gifts and was invited by many to go hunting, I must stress that I never let myself be corrupted," he told the court during his trial, media reported.

Russian shadow

As head of the IBU when the Russian doping scandal exploded in the 2010s, Besseberg was accused of initially hiding cases of Russian doping in his sport in exchange for favours.

Prosecutors dropped that line of attack, but in Norway, receiving improper favours, even if no services are provided in exchange, is enough to constitute corruption.

Russia's shadow nonetheless hung heavily over the case.

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According to an inquiry launched by Sweden's Olle Dahlin, who succeeded Besseberg as head of the IBU, Besseberg pushed to hold the 2021 biathlon world championships in Tyumen, Siberia, despite the Russian doping scandals.

The contest was eventually awarded to Pokljuka in Slovenia.

Prosecutors argued that Besseberg went on fully paid hunting trips in Austria and in the Czech Republic, and for seven years drove a leased BMW X5, all paid for by Infront, a marketing company that held television rights to the sport.

They argued he was given three watches worth a total of more than 30,000 euros ($33,000), invited on trips to hunt deer and wild boar, and offered services from sex workers, all paid for by Russian officials.

Asked about an Omega watch worth more than 17,000 euros he received in 2011 for his 65th birthday, he said: "I did not think it was undeserved."

The court said two of the three watches he received constituted corruption.

Besseberg also denied any contact with sex workers, acknowledging only what he said was a consensual affair with a 42-year-old Russian.

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