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Nordic Noir (1): Besseberg, the IBU, Infront, Russia and the Olympic way of corruption

Anders Besseberg, former president of the International Biathlon Union, risks ten years in prison for corruption in a true Nordic Noir crime case that has exposed one of the largest sports scandals in the Nordic democracies in 25 years. Further investigations in other countries are still ongoing.

Once upon a time: IBU legends Nicole Resch (left) and Anders Besseberg (third from left) with certain IOC and Olympic legends at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, weeks before Resch and Besseberg had to step down. (Photo: Greg Martin / IOC)

Janus is the name of an ancient Roman god with two faces. But it's also the name of a six-year Norwegian police investigation into Anders Besseberg, the former president of the International Biathlon Union (IBU).

"It's a characterisation of me that I find very hurtful and also unacceptable," Anders Besseberg said of the police's perception of him as a two-faced international sports god when he appeared last week at Buskerud District Court in the Norwegian town of Hokksund, where the 77-year-old Norwegian is charged with gross corruption, which in Norway carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison.

But judging by the Norwegian news media's preliminary coverage of the five-week trial, which can best be described as a true Nordic Noir crime thriller, the police's divine description of Anders Besseberg as Janus is a good illustration of how the police and prosecution view the protagonist in one of the biggest sports scandals in the Nordic countries since 1999.

Back then, during the investigation into the Olympic corruption scandal in Salt Lake City, USA, it emerged that Danish IOC member Niels Holst-Sørensen and Finnish IOC member Pirjo Häggman were among the IOC members who were found to have received expensive gifts and services from Olympic candidate cities that dreamed of hosting the Olympic Games.

Although Nordic sports leaders have a long tradition of portraying themselves as democratic paragons of virtue who distance themselves from any form of corruption, neither the Dane nor the Finn could understand that they had done anything wrong. Nor does Anders Besseberg believe that he has.

"I don't see that I have done anything wrong"

The case against Anders Besseberg became public knowledge in 2018 when the French newspaper Le Monde"How Russia bought the International Biathlon Union" – cited a confidential WADA report from 2017 that the Norwegian and the IBU's German secretary general Nicole Resch were investigated for receiving Russian bribe money to hide positive doping samples.

Since then, Austrian police have been investigating the doping case, while Norwegian police have concentrated on investigating the corruption case. And it is only the corruption case that Anders Besseberg is now on trial for. 

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The Central Public Prosecutor's Office for the Prosecution of Economic Crime and Corruption (WKStA) in Austria closed an investigation against Nicole Resch in 2022.

When the Norwegian answer to the Roman god Janus broke six years of public silence in court last week, he declared his innocence and accused the news media of collectively prejudging him.

"I have felt completely defenceless and am actually very happy that we are sitting here today. What has given me the strength to stand upright in this storm is that I cannot see that I have done anything wrong," said Anders Besseberg in his opening defence speech, which took him a day and a half in court to read from a black binder with 60 handwritten pages.

Besseberg was the founding president of the IBU in 1993, which until then had been united with the modern pentathletes under the umbrella of the UIPMB (Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne et Biathlon). He held office until 2018 – two days after the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office searched the IBU offices in Anif near Salzburg, Besseberg stepped down as IBU President. The raid on 10 April 2018 was conducted in cooperation with Interpol and the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Økokrim).

In his long defence speech, the former IBU president portrayed himself as a frugal Norwegian farmer who, through a great deal of selfless work over 25 years, had created a lucrative international sports organisation where he looked after the interests of both large and small nations in biathlon.

"I have tried to bridge the gap between East and West. Personally, I have neither let myself be bought, accepted offers of prostitutes, manipulated the allocation of competitions or doping tests, nor discriminated against nations or individuals."
Anders Besseberg

From Russia with Love

In the prosecution's view, however, Anders Besseberg also has a completely different face than the one he shows in court, where the aging Norwegian complains of hearing loss, watery eyes, back pain and a memory that is not what it used to be.

The former IBU president is accused of "demanding, accepting or receiving" Russian prostitutes, exclusive hunting trips, expensive wristwatches and a leased BMW X5 car, for which the IBU's marketing company Infront Austria GmbH, a subsidiary of the notorious Infront Sports & Media AG, covered the costs between 2009 and 2018.

Compromat. KGB. FSB. GRU. An intelligence overview of Putin’s relationship with the IOC
For decades there has been speculation about information and possibly incriminating material on IOC members and other big names that might be stored in Moscow’s secret service archives. If anyone had access to compromat, it was Vladimir Putin. The spying activities span half a century.

You may also read this brief overview of the many decades of dubious Russian dominance in the Olympic family.

The prosecution has not assessed the value of the Russian prostitutes that Anders Besseberg, according to the indictment, was offered by one or more "persons of authority in Russian biathlon" and met with several times in the period from 2013 to 2018. Among other things, during a biathlon competition in Moscow prior to the Olympic Winter Games 2014 in Sochi and during IBU competitions in the Russian cities of Khanty-Mansiysk and Tyumen.

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