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Russian tycoon Prokhorov slams allegations by US attorney for WADA informant

March 06, 9:26 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Prokhorov vows to continue supporting a libel suit of three national female biathletes against former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory

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Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov

© Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS

MOSCOW, March 6. /TASS, Andrey Kartashov/. Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov vows to continue supporting a libel suit of three national female biathletes against former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, despite recent warnings from Russian whistleblower’s US lawyer James Walden to launch a countersuit.

In late February, three Russian biathletes Olga Zaytseva, Olga Vilukhina and Yana Romanova filed a lawsuit with a court in New York against Rodchenkov accusing him of defamation and destroying their careers. Prokhorov pledged to render the necessary support, including the financial assistance, to the lawsuit submitted by the Russian biathletes in the United States, which sheltered Rodchenkov.

Last week, Yahoo News reported citing a letter from Walden to Prokhorov, dated as of February 23, that the US lawyer for Rodchenkov threatened the Russian billionaire businessman with a "countersuit aimed at exposing the Russian government’s efforts to harass and intimidate his client in the United States."

The letter from Walden stated in particular that the supported by Prokhorov lawsuit appeared "to be intended not to vindicate any actual wrongs committed against the plaintiffs, but instead to intimidate or retaliate against a whistleblower."

In his letter to Walden, a copy of which was exclusively provided to TASS, Prokhorov replied: "It occurs to me that a person of your profession and education would have more integrity than to suggest that the lawsuit I am helping to finance against your client is intended to ‘retaliate or intimidate a whistleblower’."

"I believe in the three plaintiffs who are suing Mr. Rodchenkov for libel," Prokhorov stated in his letter. "From everything I know and observed during their time in biathlon, they were clean, and this is why I am helping them clear their names. My only motivation to help the athletes is because I believe in their innocence."

"I am astounded that you would be critical of anyone wanting to have their day in court and be judged based on the evidence presented," according to Prokhorov. "I believe in the American justice system and, as a lawyer, I would expect that you do too."

Prokhorov also wrote to Walden that he had been always fighting against the abuse of banned performance enhancing drugs in sports, including his time of the presidency in the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) between 2008 and 2014, while Rodchenkov admitted to be behind a covert doping scheme during his work in Russia.

"Whatever else he might be, your client has acknowledged that he ran a covert doping ring intended to sell banned substances to athletes for personal profit and also to replace athletes’ samples with no remorse whatsoever," Prokhorov wrote to Walden. "This does not make him a hero whose every word must be taken as the truth. To the contrary, his own admitted history of lies and deception cries out for a robust challenge to his allegations."

"I, on the other hand, have fought for clean sport from the moment I became head of the Biathlon Union in 2008, and fought against people like your client, who were making a fortune providing athletes with a way to cheat the system," the 52-year-old businessman and Russian biathlon’s former top executive said. "I hired as the head trainer of the national team a person of impeccable reputation as a man who has fought for clean sport. That man, Germany’s Wolfgang Pichler, just completed the Olympics in PyeongChang as head coach of the Swedish national team."

"My team was recognized twice by the International Biathlon Union for achievements including work on anti-doping," Prokhorov wrote. "We conducted some 4,000 tests, including a separate contract for 250 tests that were not required by international standards, that resulted in our ejecting 10 athletes from the sport during my time at the RBU. Catching violators was, plain and simple, a top priority."

Prokhorov to Walden: "You can’t simply lump the innocent in with the guilty"

Rodchenkov’s lawyer Walden also stated in conclusion of his February 23 letter to Prokhorov, who is the owner of the US-based National Basketball Association’s (NBA) club Brooklyn Nets, that "if the press reports are true, it would seem incongruous for an NBA team owner to support a lawsuit that is calculated to discourage efforts to combat doping among athletes."

Prokhorov replied in his letter: "How dare you suggest that I am in any way intending to ‘discourage efforts to combat doping among athletes?’"

"Your letter mentions the possibility of a suit against me as well as a thinly-veiled threat regarding the NBA and my ownership of the Brooklyn Nets," according to Prokhorov’s statement. "This attempt at intimidation will not deter me from helping Olga Zaytseva, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina as they try to clear their names."

"You can’t simply lump the innocent in with the guilty without a fair hearing and analysis of the evidence," Prokhorov continued. "Your suggestion that my support of this lawsuit is somehow intended to obstruct justice or interfere with law enforcement efforts is utterly baseless, irresponsible and inconsistent with your ethical obligations. I caution you to exercise a bit more discretion in your handling of these issues."

Concluding his message to James Walden, Prokhorov said that he was looking forward "to our day in court and let the judicial process determine who is right in this matter."

Whistleblower Rodchenkov and his doping allegations

Rodchenkov told Western media in the spring of 2016 that Russian athletes largely used performance enhancing drugs at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi with the approval of the national sports authorities.

On the whole, the ex-doping official claimed that the Russian sports authorities allegedly prepared a special doping program for national athletes in order to win most of the medals at home Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

The former chief of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory also gave WADA last year what he said was a list of athletes who on the eve of the 2014 Winter Olympics allegedly had used a doping cocktail that he concocted and named after a popular Soviet-era soft drink.

On June 8, 2016, Russia’s Investigative Committee launched a criminal case against Rodchenkov on charges of power abuse. On September 21, 2017 Moscow’s Basmanny District Court arrested him in absentia.

In November 2017, the Russian Investigative Committee announced that it would seek the extradition of Rodchenkov, who absconded to the United States in 2015. In addition, an obstruction of justice charges was filed against him. He was also put on the international wanted list.

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