PtG Article 16.11.2009

New book alleges Samaranch KGB link

A new book by Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky alleges that former IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was a member of the Soviet Union’s infamous spy network, the KGB. German journalist Jens Weinreich, an expert in sports politics, takes a look at the evidence for Play the Game.

Did IOC Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch once work as an agent of the Soviet secret service KGB? This is one of the most intriguing questions in the Olympic world right now. The answer to this question may give some more answers to other important questions: How could the Russian resort Sochi win the Olympic Winter Games 2014? Which role did the Spaniard Samaranch, IOC President between 1980 and 2001, play in the highly controversial IOC decision for Sochi two years ago alongside famous ex-KGB spy, Vladimir Putin? Do members and ex-members of the KGB and its replacement organisation FSB still make Olympic history?

Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky and former KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Popov both claim that Samaranch was hired by the KGB in the late 1970s. Juan Antonio Samaranch, a strong supporter of Spain’s fascist dictator Franco and former secretary for sport, was sent to Moscow in 1977. He served as Spain’s ambassador in the Soviet Union and Mongolia. At this time, Samaranch was IOC Vice President and head of Olympic protocol.

“Samaranch developed an interest in Russian history and culture. He grew particularly fond of Russian antiques, which he collected with the love of a genuine connoisseur and shipped to his home in Spain. The USSR prohibited taking objects of cultural and historic value out of the country” writes Felshtinsky in his book The Corporation: Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin which was published in late 2008.

“In Soviet times, all antiques were closely monitored by the KGB; so ambassador Samaranch, a frequent buyer of increasingly valuable rarities, was taken note of. After a while, an agent from the KGB’s Second Main Directorate, which monitored the Spanish embassy, met with Samaranch and gently explained to him that his actions were subject to prosecution in accordance with the RSFRS’s Criminal Code and were classified by Soviet law as the smuggling of contraband goods. Samaranch was offered a choice: he could either be compromised through the publication of articles in the Soviet and foreign press detailing his activities, which would undoubtedly have put an end to his diplomatic career, or he could collaborate with the KGB as a secret agent. Samaranch chose the latter option,” alleges Felshtinsky.

And, it is claimed, the KGB promised to help Samaranch becoming IOC President. It is at least documented that Viktor Chebrikov, then KGB deputy head who become later KGB’s number one, has written encrypted information to his secret service comrades in the Eastern Bloc to support Samaranch in any way to get the required votes. As the result of the collaboration “Samaranch was elected President of the IOC”, writes Feshtinsky, “where for many years he loyally served the country to which he was connected by his work as an agent and by his gratitude for its help in getting him a high international position”.

Felshtinsky and Popov repeated the allegations in their recent book “The KGB plays chess” which was published in Russian a few weeks ago. For the first time Vladimir Popov, source of the KGB story in the 2008 book, decided to disclose his identity. In the KGB system, Lieutenant Colonel Popov was responsible for several hundred secret sport agents. Samaranch was only one of them and was called “Soviet Sport General” within the KGB system. “Vladimir Popov has lifted his anonymity. This is a new quality”, says Mr. Felshtinsky, who lives in Boston. “Vladimir Popov knows all the names of the sport spies, all the nicknames and all the recruiting officers. He is a very reliable source with strong arguments.”

Officially, access to KGB files is not allowed in Russia. On the contrary, secret service archives in other former communist countries are open, such as the Stasi-archives former East Germany. It is an historical matter of fact that the KGB and East Germany’s Stasi had formed a secret service joint venture to spy and undermine the Olympic movement and bring things in the “right direction”.

The descriptions of the authors Felshtinsky and Popov coincides with other revelations over the past years.

Mark Adams, Communications Director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), stated that Mr. Samaranch was not reachable for comments. Adams described the revelations in the book as “sheer speculation”.

The IOC election took place on the eve of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, which were overshadowed by a boycott by most western countries. The IOC election itself was always plagued by rumours and allegations of corruption. Dubious persons like the former French secret service agent and long-time Samaranch-ally André Guelfi, who later played a key role in the huge corruption scandal of the oil giant Elf Aquitaine, have claimed having influenced the IOC election in 1980. Guelfi backed Samaranch in July 1980 – alongside the influential German businessman Horst Dassler, then head of Adidas and later founder of the marketing company ISL, and his crew, the so called sport-political department of Adidas. “We did it”, claimed Guelfi more than once. One of the sport-political group members was the Frenchman Jean-Marie Weber, who later became famous as the key person in the biggest Olympic corruption scandal ever: the ISL case. Weber was responsible for paying at least 138 million Swiss franc bribery money to high ranking sport officials in the Olympic world.

To get Samaranch elected, Dassler and Guelfi allegedly turned for help to Russian IOC member Vitaly Smirnov – and obviously to the KGB. According to Mr. Felshtinsky not only Samaranch served as an Olympic KGB agent. Felshtinsky labels other high ranking Olympic agents: Russian IOC members Vitaly Smirnov and Shamil Tarpichev, longtime FIFA Executive Board member Viacheslav Koloskov and current Russian NOC President Leonid Tyagachev.

Felshtinsky labels even the recruiting officers of the Olympic secret service agents – and some of their code names. For example: Leonid Tyagachev was recruited by KGB major Smaznov with the code name “Elbrus”. Elbrus is the biggest mountain in the Caucasus region – and Tyagachev was once a Soviet downhill skier and coach. It is not an old story at all: Tyagachev has played an important role in securing the 2014 Winter Games as a solicitous servant of the then Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2007 in Guatemala where the IOC session took place.

Back to Moscow on July 16th 1980: The KGB plot went well. Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected as successor to Ireland’s Lord Killanin when he polled 44 votes to beat Marc Holder (Switzerland), who got 21 votes, James Worrall (Canada, 7) and Willi Daume (West Germany, 5). Lance Cross from New Zealand withdrew from election at the very last minute.

A year after, at the Olympic Congress 1981 in Baden-Baden, Michael Killanin voiced public criticism of the process: “I felt strongly that the post of President of the IOC should not be purchasable but open to anyone who could devote the time. There has been a growing tendency (and many rumours) towards people trying to obtain posts by currying favour; even it is alleged, paying the fares of those who may vote... I can assure you that if this increases, the credibility of sports administrators will be undermined forever. It is a matter of electing the best person for the job and his independence is independence of mind and not of pocket.”

Yuri Felshtinsky does not expect inquiries by the IOC. “They want to hold it under the carpet.” Naturally he does not expect any comments from the KGB replacement FSB. “It’s all about damage control”, says Mr. Felshtinsky: “They know exactly what Vladimir Popov knows.”