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Russian Doping Whistleblower Says He Fears For His Life

Dec 27, 2017
Originally published on December 27, 2017 7:26 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Two years ago, Grigory Rodchenkov fled Russia for the United States. He didn't come empty-handed. Rodchenkov gave details of a massive state-run doping campaign that helped Russian athletes win big in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His cooperation was instrumental in the International Olympic Committee's decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Well now, Rodchenkov fears Russia wants him dead, as reported by our guest Michael Isikoff, who is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News. Welcome to the program once again.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And first, where is Grigory Rodchenkov, and what have you learned about him?

ISIKOFF: Well, we know that Grigory Rodchenkov somewhere in the United States, but he's under the Federal Witness Protection Program. And in fact, because there are genuine concerns about threats to his life, his own lawyer has not even been able to communicate with him over the past week or so. That lawyer, Jim Walden, told me that he was recently informed by a U.S. government official that he should assume that there are Russian agents in the United States looking for Mr. Rodchenkov and that significant enhancements needed to be made in his security protections.

SIEGEL: Is it fair to say that Rodchenkov knew a lot about the Russian doping program because he in fact was doing it?

ISIKOFF: Well, he was the mastermind of the Russian doping program. He supervised it, but he did so under the direction of the Russian Olympic Committee and with the assistance of the FSB, the Russian secret police.

SIEGEL: The idea that there might be Russian agents looking for the now underground Grigory Rodchenkov, it raises the question of he's not challenging Vladimir Putin as president of Russia, he didn't send us nuclear secrets or tell us where Russian submarines are - how big a deal is disclosing the Russian athletic doping program?

ISIKOFF: This is a huge deal for Russia and for Vladimir Putin personally. The Sochi Olympics were a showcase for him. He took great pride in the fact that Russian athletes dominated those Olympics, winning more than 30 medals. And to have that prestige robbed from Russia, it was a huge embarrassment for Putin.

SIEGEL: When you've asked the Russian government about this, about the notion that Rodchenkov might be targeted by agents in the U.S., what are they saying?

ISIKOFF: Well, they have not responded to the specific information that Jim Walden, Rodchenkov's lawyer, provided to me, but they have made clear that they view Rodchenkov as a criminal. They've filed criminal charges against him. They have demanded he be returned to Russia by the United States. And the former head of the Russian Olympic Committee has said that Rodchenkov should be executed the way Stalin would have done.

SIEGEL: So the Russians say they want to prosecute Rodchenkov, but if Rodchenkov enjoys witness protection here in the U.S., the implication is he is of some use to American prosecutors.

ISIKOFF: Exactly. One of the interesting things his lawyer, Mr. Walden, told me is that federal prosecutors are conducting investigations that could lead to criminal charges against Russian Olympic officials. These could be racketeering charges. And the idea would be that Americans who participated in the Olympics, the American Olympic Committee, American companies such as NBC, which broadcast the Olympics, would have been defrauded by this doping scheme.

SIEGEL: Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, thanks.

ISIKOFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.