Thomas Kistner & Johannes Knuth
Namibia’s sprint legend Frank Fredericks was a world class sprinter and then made a rapid career as a sports official and businessman. Then questionable things happened, or as Fredericks puts it; a lot of stupid coincidences.
This is a story that doesn’t take place in the glittering stadiums in Barcelona, Atlanta or Stuttgart. In those arenas is where the Namibian track and field athlete Fredericks once laid the foundation for his sprinter career.
This story begins in 1994 at an inconspicuous meeting in Johannesburg. Fredericks had become world champion in the 200 meters in Stuttgart the year before, now he has been invited to this meeting in South Africa by a certain Papa Massata Diack.
He later thanked his sponsor politely, but Diack found it inappropriate, as Fredericks once said: “He explained to me that as a world champion I have to ask a lot more now, including bonuses. Since then I’ve respected him very much. I know but not why he was so interested in me.”
Or better: why Diack’s father Lamine, who came to the head of the World Athletics Federation five years later, wanted Fredericks to become an official at some point. “Perhaps,” thought Fredericks, “both of them saw leadership skills in me.”
This is how Fredericks reported it when he sat in front of the French criminal investigators in Paris three years ago. By then, the Namibian had indeed had a streamlined executive career. As a sprinter, he had always been everybody’s darling: a quiet, slender athlete in a world full of muscle-bound narcissists.
He was world champion in 1993, the first African in a sprint. Won four Olympic silver medals over 100 and 200 meters, the first in the history of Namibia, people danced in the streets back then. The good reputation echoed for a long time, Fredericks made an equally rapid career as a functionary and businessman. Until 2017.
The IOC, IAAF Council
and the Games Commission
Then an ominous transfer of money, US$299,300 came to light - transferred to Fredericks from Papa Massata Diack, the infamous marketing advisor he was so familiar with, who with Father Lamine had enriched himself in the athletics association’s business for years.
This is what a Paris court recently held. The French public prosecutor’s office PNF has also been investigating Fredericks since 2017. The suspicion (which he denies): corruption and money laundering. Because at the time of Diack’s payment, on October 2, 2009, the corrupt awarding of the 2016 Summer Olympics happened by chance; Fredericks was an election examiner at the time and entitled to vote as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
When the payment to him became known, he resigned all sports offices, and last July he lost his IOC membership. What is actually at hand here: the story of a huge misunderstanding as Fredericks sees it? Or the disenchantment of the former sprint darling?
When Fredericks retired in 2004, he sprinted almost seamlessly into his second career. In 2004 he was elected to the IOC’s athletes’ commission around the Summer Games in Athens and was henceforth a member of the IOC, soon also athletes spokesman for the IAAF, the world athletics association.
So exactly where the Diacks were powerfully influential: the father as IAAF President and IOC senior, the son as a marketing advisor who had a “warm relationship” with Fredericks after the 1994 meeting in Johannesburg, as Fredericks confirmed on request.
Later he moved even closer to the seams of power: He sat on the commissions that evaluated the candidates for the 2012 and 2020 Summer Games, and later headed the same committee for the 2024 Games – until his suspension in 2017.
Until then, Fredericks was also on the IAAF Council, the government of world athletics. And he was a member of the task force that to this day monitors how the doping-shattered Russian athletics federation is reforming (or not).
But Fredericks not only diligently held positions in organized sports, he also showed a great weakness for business ideas. He invested in real estate projects in Namibia, he founded companies in his home country and in Berlin; Fredericks is married to the sister of the former 800-meter runner Nico Motchebon.
From 2007 to 2009 he also advised the German Athletics Association (DLV). Upon request, the DLV confirmed that Fredericks collected 35,000 euros per year for this. But that is quite a sum that is customary in the industry, according to the association. Fredericks created training concepts and was often on site, with sprinters, in training camps, at bases.
an offshore company
In the investigation files that the SZ and the French newspaper Le Mondecould see, there is talk of another, interesting business idea. When he moved from Monaco to Namibia in 2004, he said he still wanted to park money in the euro or dollar zone.
A Monegasque consultant put him to an agency that enabled wealthy customers to discreetly store their money in letterbox companies: Mossack Fonseca. The company run by a German and Panamanian that also helped drug lords, smugglers and dictators with tax evasion, as a journalist consortium around the SZ revealed four years ago.
The German authorities recently started looking for the former company founders with an arrest warrant. With the help of the law firm, Fredericks opened a company called “Yemi Limited” in the Seychelles. Shortly afterwards, the new company was happy about a donation from Namibia.
It was this Namibian offshore oasis on which another big payment was washed up in October 2009: the US$299,300 that Fredericks received from Papa Massata Diack. Fredericks has repeatedly asserted that this is based on a completely legitimate consultancy contract that he signed with Diack junior in 2007 and which ran until March 2011. But why did money flow only once in this trade?
And on the very day when the Rio Games were awarded in Copenhagen in 2009 - for which the Brazilians bought votes from the Diacks, as they have long since confessed?
It was all a stupid coincidence, claimed Fredericks when the allegations came up in 2017: Papa Massata was in default, then transferred everything at once and on top of that, an advance payment for the next year.
Back then, in the spring of 2017, not everyone was apparently as unconcerned as Fredericks. Thomas Bach, the German President of the IOC, had the newly suspected IOC member discreetly warned against traveling to France. In other words, where investigations into corruption allegations in the IOC were already picking up speed. Why was Bach so concerned? When asked, he last gave no answer (SZ of October 10th and 11th).
and the FinCEN files
His manager negotiated as tough as everyone else when it came to which track Fredericks was allowed to start on and how much entry fee he received. He made US$5.2 million with his career, Fredericks told French investigators.
There are other interesting details in the investigator’s files. The consulting contract with the Japanese sports outfitter Mizuno, for example, who hired Fredericks again as a brand ambassador from 2011 to 2012 and paid him U$30,000 for it. That Fredericks was simultaneously evaluating the candidates for the 2020 Summer Games for the IOC, including Japan’s capital Tokyo? That didn’t bother the IOC or Fredericks.
And then there was this class reunion on September 6, 2013 over dinner in Buenos Aires - the day before the host of the 2020 Summer Games was finally chosen. Lamine Diack had used the meeting to swear more than a dozen African IOC members to the election; so he later told the French investigators.
Frederick’s closeness to the Diacks is on record in another curious case. In the FinCEN files, in which the SZ recently uncovered thousands of suspicious cash flows, around US$25 million in money transfers are documented, which apparently flowed around the Diacks in February 2014 through a New York financial institution, among others.
Clear allocations are usually missing from these cash flows - but once the name Frank Fredericks appears without any further addition. And the questions are; what can he say about it? When did he actually receive his last payment from the Diacks or those around them?
That was in 2011, says Fredericks when asked: “In 2013 or 2014 I did not receive any money from Papa Massata Diack or a company affiliated with him.” All of this is also interesting because shortly afterwards Fredericks was also part of the IAAF task force that investigated Russian state doping. Have there been interventions from above, from outside?
Not at all, writes Fredericks: As an athlete who never doped himself, “I looked at it holistically. So I fought hard on the task force for those athletes who could prove they were clean in order to compete “.
In this case, too, it must be a misunderstanding - or a stupid coincidence. As in so many cases in Frederick’s career as an official. -www.sueddeutsche.de