BY BRIAN OLIVER
The Executive Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) have been asked to decide on expelling their long-standing President, Tamás Aján, who has held high office at the sport’s governing body since 1976.
In a letter leaked by a Board member to the German TV station ARD, Aján is told by Ursula Papandrea, the IWF’s Acting President, that he is “no longer suitable” to lead the IWF or sit on the Board.
The 81-year-old Hungarian has been President since 2000 and was general secretary of the IWF for 24 years before that.
In the letter Papandrea, an American, said Aján threatened to have her arrested on one of her visits to the IWF offices, where she was mandated to be in charge of operations.
Papandrea told insidethegames that she was “incredibly upset” about the leaking of the private letter to ARD.
“I hope the damage to our sport is reparable as my ultimate goal is to restore the reputation,” she said.
Aján stood aside for 90 days pending an independent investigation, led by the Canadian Richard McLaren, into allegations of financial and anti-doping corruption that were raised by ARD in a documentary broadcast in Germany on January 5.
His absence, originally due to end on April 22, was extended until June when the Board decided, in the last week of March, that Papandrea should continue as Acting President.
Now, according to details in the leaked letter, Aján faces expulsion because he has allegedly not complied with the conditions of his “stand-aside” period.
In the leaked letter, addressed to Aján and fellow Executive Board members, Papandrea lists “a number of violations that have occurred in accordance with the terms of reference” – the document that lists the duties of the Acting President until June 19, and which was approved by the Board.
One of these states simply “the IWF Acting President supervises the IWF Secretariat”.
Her view as evident in the letter is clearly that the Secretariat, based in Budapest where Aján lives, has continued to work for Aján.
Her letter states: “You, President Aján, have not stepped into the background of operations.
“On the contrary, every day I was in Budapest for the last visit, you were in the office conducting business as usual with both the Secretariat and, in this case, auditors.”
Papandrea then lists a number of grievances.
“I have not yet been placed in IWF financial institutions to be able to even partake in financial decisions or have knowledge of them.
“You in fact asked the general secretary to transfer money from Swiss account to Budapest without my knowledge.”
The terms of reference dictate that the Acting President “manages and supervises the activities of the IWF and of the Secretariat that administers the financial activities and keeps the accounts of the IWF”.
Papandrea also stated that Aján had continued to “participate in IOC (International Olympic Committee) conference calls” when that duty rests with her.
Aján resigned as an honorary member of the IOC after the corruption allegations were aired, stating he was doing so “in order to save the IOC from negative rumours and subsequent inconvenience”.
Aján is also said to have initiated a meeting with auditors without Papandrea’s consent “and started the meeting an hour prior to the time indicated to me”.
“He interfered in the timing and venue of Board meetings”, wrote Papandrea.
She also wrote: “You have continued to maintain all business accounts, and information regarding them remains under your control as members of the Secretariat perform at your direction.
“As a minor example, when asking for a key I was denied access to a key for 30 minutes as no one wanted to interfere with a very important call you were having in your office, in which you had been continuing to operate.”
Because of these alleged transgressions, and further alleged “insults and implicit threats” Papandrea told Aján: “I believe you are no longer suited to either represent or lead this organisation.”
She then called on her fellow Board members to vote on a motion calling for Aján’s expulsion, which would be effective until the next IWF Congress next year, at which point all member Federations would be asked to approve the expulsion permanently.
There is no indication of when the vote would be taken, nor when its result might be made public.
When contacted for comment on the leaked letter, Papandrea – who until her term as Acting President ends is the “sole authorised spokesperson of the IWF” – issued the following statement:
“The IWF Executive Board has been attempting to take actions to clean up the sport of weightlifting.
“We are responsible for the public image of the sport as well as the strategies for long term success.
“We continue to take steps that are required to reach our goals on the whole.
“Where the Board finds impediments to our success in modernising governance and operations, we are responsible to act.
“I am incredibly upset that during our activity there has been release of both confidential information and of our incomplete activity.
“We must work to protect the sport from both external and internal harms.
“I hope the damage to our sport is reparable as my ultimate goal is to restore the reputation by acting strongly in areas of good governance, accountability, and trust, all of which have been a concern for the Executive Board and continue to be our focus.”
The main allegations in the ARD documentary concerned malpractice in anti-doping procedures and “missing millions” – the alleged placing of $5.5million (£4.4million/€5.2million) of IWF funds into Swiss accounts controlled by Aján.
Aján denied the allegations and said the documentary ‘Secret Doping – The Lord of the Lifters’ had “ruined my life and 50 years of my work”.
Papandrea added: “I personally ask that the media refrain from any perceivably harmful attacks or information to our current President.
“He deserves the respect owed all of us.
“I would respectfully request the space and time for us to internally solve our problems.
“We understandably have been a focus considering the allegations but we are solving these issues one by one.
“We only wish to repair our sport, and this will take time.”