WORLD NEWS
12/05/2017 06:39 pm ET

Russian Olympic Doping Whistleblower Fears Putin Will Retaliate Against His Family

"He knows he is going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life," his lawyer said.

Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov fled Russia in 2016 to expose a widespread state-sponsored doping scheme that benefited Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Now, on the day the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Rodchenkov’s lawyer said his client is living in constant fear that President Vladimir Putin’s government will retaliate against him and his family.

“He is enormously concerned for his family, who he had to leave in Russia,” Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s attorney, said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “[He] hopes that the world will come together to watch over them in case there are attempts to retaliate against them.”

“The Kremlin has proven to be a very determined and difficult adversary for Grigory,” Walden said. “Without any doubt in my mind, I can say he knows he is going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.”

Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, first exposed the scheme to The New York Times in 2016. He was also the subject of a 2017 Netflix documentary that further revealed the workings of the Russian operation, in which officials allegedly tampered with hundreds, if not thousands, of drug samples to shield the country’s Olympic athletes from punishment.

The IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee on Tuesday from appearing at the 2018 Olympics and permanently barred two high-ranking Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, from involvement in the games. Russian athletes will be able to compete on a limited basis under a neutral flag.

Russia has denied most of the allegations against its athletes and officials, despite the results of multiple investigations from the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. Putin, who is not expected to respond to the IOC suspension until Wednesday, Russian media said, has previously referred to Rodchenkov as “a single man with a scandalous reputation.”

In November, the Russian government announced that it planned to seek Rodchenkov’s extradition from the United States, Reuters reported. Russia and the United States do not have an extradition treaty.

“WADA’s policies forbid retaliation against whistleblowers, yet Russia continues to ignore this fact, seeking instead to silence Dr. Rodchenkov,” Walden said in November, according to CNN.

Walden said Tuesday that WADA has conveyed to Russia “that it was completely inappropriate” to retaliate against a whistleblower. 

Putin’s Russia has long faced global scrutiny for its crackdowns on government critics, and is today “more repressive than it has ever been in the post-Soviet era,” the international nonprofit Human Rights Watch says on its website. “Using a wide range of tools, the state has tightened control over free expression, assembly, and speech, aiming to silence independent critics.”

In multiple high-profile incidents, whistleblowers and government critics have been imprisoned or killed under suspicious circumstances. In 2009, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison after exposing a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme that targeted an American banker. His case sparked an outcry against the Russian government and sanctions from the United States.

Before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia jailed environmental activists who criticized the government and the games. In 2015, an outspoken critic of Putin and his party was shot and killed in Moscow. And last year, a former Russian lawmaker who had fled to Ukraine was killed in Kiev just hours after he’d warned that he had become a target of the Putin government.

Putin and the Russian government have denied involvement in those deaths.

Rodchenkov believes the punishments imposed upon Russia in the upcoming Olympics are “fair and appropriate,” Walden said on the call Tuesday.

“He doesn’t wish ill on Russia,” Walden said. “He doesn’t wish ill on clean Russian athletes. What he wishes is that the world would come together and stop paying lip service to the need for anti-doping reform. … He obviously loves his country very much, and hopes they’d do something atypical for its government and accept responsibility.”

Rodchenkov has had only limited communication with his family since fleeing Russia, Walden said.

“I’d say that he’s, like anyone in a situation that is a constantly evolving crisis, he’s got good days and bad days,” Walden said. “He’s very concerned and worried about his family. Russia’s sunk to some amazing depths in this case rather than face the truth, and he just hopes the Russian government will do the right thing with his family, and leave them alone.”

CONVERSATIONS