Lawyer: IOC should keep Russian ban in place until threats to whistleblower stop

The lawyer for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov has called for the International Olympic Committee to do more to stem a recent surge in attacks on his client's credibility and threats to his safety.

New York-based attorney Jim Walden told ESPN the IOC should clearly state that the recent suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee from Pyeongchang 2018 will remain in place throughout the Winter Games unless the recent campaign of verbal assaults and overt and covert pressure on former Moscow lab director Rodchenkov ends immediately.

Walden noted the IOC executive board left itself the option of ending the formal suspension before the Pyeongchang closing ceremony, which would enable the Russian delegation to march in before a worldwide television audience with its national uniforms and flag.

Athletes are currently slated to compete as "neutrals" with the designation "Olympic Athlete from Russia.'' The delegation could be sizable despite the official suspension, depending on what criteria are set for individual athletes by an IOC-convened panel.

"They have the power to lift it or not lift it, based on whether Russia is doing everything they need a compliant country to do, and to say, 'We expect non-retaliation,'" Walden told ESPN this week, adding the threats against Rodchenkov are "another symptom of the continued denial that there was a state-sponsored doping system.''

Two years ago, Rodchenkov fled to the United States, fearing for his life as the scope of organized doping and testing sabotage in Russian sports -- which he helped plan and refine before the Sochi 2014 Games -- became clear. He is currently under the protection of federal law enforcement authorities, living in an undisclosed location.

Rodchenkov's story was featured in the documentary "Icarus.''

The scientist's extensive testimony to independent investigator and Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, and subsequent written affidavits to two IOC commissions following up on McLaren's reports, were declared credible by those commissions.

More than 40 Russian athletes, including 13 medalists, have had Sochi results stripped by the IOC. They also have been barred from participating in Pyeongchang as well as future Olympics, a sanction sure to be challenged in arbitration.

Russian officials have consistently sought to discredit Rodchenkov. The broadsides have escalated in recent weeks, including comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting that Rodchenkov was being drugged and his testimony influenced by U.S. authorities. A former Russian Olympic Committee chief said Rodchenkov should be shot.

Earlier this week, Walden released a written statement to media outlets saying Rodchenkov had been charged with drug trafficking in Russia on the same day that he was scheduled to be interviewed by U.S. immigration officials. Walden said he cannot elaborate on anything more about Rodchenkov's immigration status.

Walden emphasized that the interview date was supposed to be confidential, alleged that Russian officials are privately lobbying the U.S. for Rodchenkov's return, and called the developments "ominous."

Security measures designed to keep Rodchenkov safe also have been stepped up, Walden said.

There is no extradition treaty between Russia and the United States. Amy Jeffress, a Washington, D.C. attorney with expertise in extradition law, said deportation would not apply to a foreign citizen lawfully residing in the United States, and individuals have recourse in the courts if their legal status is challenged.

Speaking in general terms and not about Rodchenkov's case specifically, she added that the U.S. Department of Justice has the ability to sponsor visas for individuals they consider important witnesses in ongoing cases to allow them to remain.

If Rodchenkov were to apply for political asylum, University of Connecticut law professor Jon Bauer, who specializes in asylum law, said the mere existence of a charge would not be enough to deny such a request, but could prompt U.S. authorities to investigate its validity.

U.S. law, modeled on the provisions of a longstanding United Nations treaty, allows for asylum to be denied if the applicant has "committed a serious non-political crime in his or her country of origin,'' Bauer said. "The dividing line of what is a serious offense is not clear.''

Speaking in general terms, Bauer said that charges deemed to be a pretext and/or obvious retaliation can be discounted.

All of the Russian athletes and officials sanctioned for participating in the Sochi doping conspiracy are expected to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where Rodchenkov's testimony will be crucial if the IOC's disciplinary rulings are to be upheld.

Walden speculated in his written statement that the IOC was being passive about threats to Rodchenkov because it did not want any more of his evidence to emerge.

The IOC strongly disputed that idea in a statement relayed by spokesman Mark Adams, saying it is a "ridiculous assertion that we would like it if Mr. Rodchenkov 'were not to be available.'

"The IOC coordinated with WADA, who wrote to the Russian sports minister and the lOC to the Russian Olympic Committee to make it clear that Mr. Rodchenkov deserved protection as a whistleblower," the IOC statement continued.

A WADA official familiar with the correspondence said there had been two letters sent in recent weeks, and Adams confirmed to ESPN last month that the IOC had "expressed its dismay" in writing regarding the official who said Rodchenkov should be shot.

Neither WADA nor the IOC provided copies of the letters to ESPN.

WADA spokeswoman Maggie Durand sent a summary saying the letters "stated that whistleblowers should be protected and supported; stated that retaliation against whistleblowers is not acceptable; and questioned why Dr. Rodchenkov was the only person under criminal investigation when he was but one part of the institutionalized doping system in Russia."

Walden said his offer to come to Lausanne to speak with "anyone in a position of authority" in the IOC was rejected. The IOC said its lawyers have communicated with Rodchenkov's lawyers and "never at any time refused any dialogue."

"The IOC also wants to make clear that it is not in its powers to protect witnesses nor to comment on judiciary acts or protection, be it in the United States or Russia," the statement concluded.