Two Kenyan athletics officials found not guilty of extortion

Two senior Kenyan track and field officials were found not guilty by an IAAF ethics panel of extorting money from athletes in return for reducing doping bans or covering up positive tests despite there being some "credible evidence."

Former IAAF Council member David Okeyo, who was banned for life from track and field by the IAAF last week in a separate case, and former Kenyan federation CEO Isaac Mwangi were cleared after prosecutors did not prove the charges against them beyond a reasonable doubt.

The ethics panel's decision was released Thursday after a two-year investigation and two hearings, one in January and February and another in May.

"Although the charges have not been proven in this case against either defendant, the panel is perturbed by some of the evidence led in the case," the three-member panel said in its conclusion.

The panel said it was left in an "uncomfortable" position.

In the case of Okeyo, the now banned former Athletics Kenya vice president and secretary general, there was "credible evidence to suggest that extortion may have taken place" with regard to two athletes. But, the panel conceded, "that evidence does not meet the standard of proof required in terms of the rules of the Ethics Board."

The panel said it had placed a high burden of proof for the prosecution to meet in the cases because of the seriousness of the accusations against Okeyo and Mwangi.

Okeyo's career in the sport is already over after he was thrown out of the sport for embezzling sponsor money paid to the Kenyan track federation, although the now expelled member of the IAAF's ruling council has indicated he will appeal his life ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Mwangi has left his job at Athletics Kenya.

The IAAF ethics board investigation was sparked by an Associated Press report in Kenya in 2016 which first focused on Mwangi. Athletes later also accused Okeyo, as well as former Kenyan federation head Isaiah Kiplagat, who died in 2016.

Six athletes who were banned for doping accused Okeyo of extorting money from them to influence their cases. Four athletes accused Mwangi. They alleged the extortion happened in 2012 and 2015.

Some of them did not testify in the IAAF hearings.

The panel concluded that two of the athletes making allegations against Okeyo and who testified, Ronald Kipchumba Rutto and Agatha Jeruto, provided credible evidence that extortion took place.

In Rutto's case, though, there were no other witnesses to his claim that Okeyo asked him for money to make sure his ban was for two years and not four. It was his word against Okeyo's. Jeruto testified that another person asked her for $50,000 on behalf of Okeyo and the person could not be located to corroborate her story. The panel still described Jeruto as "truthful."

Another athlete who testified, Mathew Kisorio, appeared to backtrack on allegations of extortion against Okeyo he made in a pre-hearing statement once he started testifying. The panel said Kisorio was likely "uncomfortable'' testifying in front of Okeyo, a powerful figure in Kenyan track, and also recorded a claim by the prosecutor that Okeyo was laughing during Kisorio's testimony.

The two athletes who testified against Mwangi, Joy Sakari and Francisca Koki Manunga, failed doping tests at the 2015 world championships and were sent home.

They said Mwangi asked them at a meeting in his office in October 2015 for $24,000 each to influence their doping cases. Sakari said Mwangi told them that if they paid he could reduce their bans or even "make them go away."

Neither athlete paid and they were banned for four years the following month.

There were areas of concern around Mwangi, including an entry in his diary for another meeting on the day he allegedly extorted money from the athletes. Mwangi used it as part of his alibi but the supposed appointment was entered into his diary in late February 2016, four months after the day in question and a few weeks after allegations against him were first made.

In its judgment, the panel found that both sides, the two athletes and also Mwangi, appeared believable when testifying.

"The panel is thus left in the uncomfortable position of having heard contradictory evidence from witnesses that, in the main, it has found to be credible," it said. "It is precisely in such circumstances that the burden of proof determines the result of a case."