Russian biathletes questioned in Austria for doping

SALZBURG, Austria (AP) — Austrian authorities are investigating 10 members of Russia’s biathlon team for doping and fraud offenses.

Police visited the Russian team’s accommodation in Austria on Wednesday ahead of a World Cup event and spoke with athletes and staff. The case is connected to a wide-ranging bribery and doping investigation involving the International Biathlon Union, whose then-president stepped down in April following a police raid of the governing body’s offices.

Austrian prosecutors said in a statement that five Russian biathletes are suspected of “severe fraud in connection with doping,” and five team officials are suspected of “the use of prohibited substances and/or methods for the purpose of doping.” Austrian authorities have previously said they could consider prize money won by doped athletes to be fraudulent earnings.

The offenses were allegedly committed around the 2017 world championships in Austria, prosecutors said, adding that “accused persons” have been given a formal notification they are under investigation. No Russian athletes in any sport have yet faced criminal prosecution for a series of doping scandals which led to the country’s team being suspended from this year’s Winter Olympics.

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A lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov said this year he provided information which led to the Austrian police action.

The Russian team is in Austria for a World Cup event, and the Russian Biathlon Union said it will “continue to compete.”

Olympic champion Anton Shipulin, who won gold at the 2014 Sochi Games, said he is “angry and furious about the witch-hunt that is going on” and has never doped.

Alexander Loginov wrote on Instagram he was accused of “some machinations with blood transfusions and something else” supposedly committed as recently as February 2017.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the overnight visit to Russian athletes ahead of a major competition looked “wild.” She added that the Russian Embassy has turned to Austrian authorities for explanation, adding that Moscow will respond if it feels the case has political undertones.

Austrian police raided the IBU headquarters in April, with prosecutors saying up to $300,000 had been paid to cover up Russian doping cases from 2012-17. Anders Besseberg, until then the only president in the IBU’s history, and general secretary Nicole Resch stepped down soon after.

Besides Russia’s team, authorities in Austria and Italy have also investigated alleged mass doping in the Kazakhstan biathlon team. Nine Kazakh athletes were suspended last month by the IBU.

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