Bankrolled by Oligarch, Russian Athletes Sue to Discredit Whistleblower

Mikhail Prokhorov (Photo credit: A.Savin/Wikipedia)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Financed by a oligarch who owns the Brooklyn Nets, three Russian athletes brought defamation claims Tuesday against the whistleblower who exposed their country’s doping program.

Filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, the 20-page complaint by biathletes Olga Zaytseva, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhin comes over a year after The New York Times printed an exclusive interview with Grigory Rodchenkov about his tenure as director of the lab that tests Russia’s athletes for drugs.

Russia was banned from this year’s Olympic Games because of the fallout from that May 12, 2016, article, though certain Russian athletes who were not directly implicated in the doping scandal have been allowed to perform as individuals, not under Russia’s banner.

Calling Rodchenkov “a career criminal, liar and cheater,” the athlete-plaintiffs  insist that they never used performance-enhancing drugs or committed any of the bad acts that Rodchenkov alleged.

Though the women are represented by Herbert Smith attorney Scott Balbert, the New York Times reported before the case was filed that the lawsuit had been bankrolled by Mikhail D. Prokhorov.

In addition to being the owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team here in New York, Prokhorov led Russia’s biathlon federation before and during the 2014 Sochi games.

Zaytseva, Romanova and Vilukhin say they won their medals fairly during those games, before having their honors stripped when they found themselves among the 43 athletes penalized by the International Olympic Committee.

“In the span of less than a week, Rodchenkov’s false statements began the process of destroying careers and reputations that had been decades in the making,” the 22-page complaint states. “Rodchenkov’s false allegations ultimately warped history and stripped the athletes of the lifelong accomplishments they had earned.”

The three athletes seek $10 million each plus punitive damages from Rodchenkov, whom they accuse of inventing the doping scandal to avoid scrutiny for his own behavior that inspired a criminal investigation in Russia.

“Due to these actions, as well as others, on Nov. 17, 2015, desperate to avoid criminal prosecution yet eager to extend his ten minutes of infamy, Rodchenkov moved to the United States and manufactured doping charges hoping to exploit Western concerns about Olympic [performance-enhancing substance] use and frame himself as a ‘whistle-blower,’ rather than the pathological liar and recidivist criminal that he is,” the complaint states.

The Times quoted Rodchenkov’s attorney James Walden as predicting the lawsuit’s failure.

“This claim has zero chance of surviving a motion to dismiss,” he said.

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