Tamás Aján took more than $600,000 (£472,000/€530,000) in cash to successive International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) electoral congresses, and spent much of it on bribes to buy votes, according to the McLaren report on corruption in weightlifting.
After Aján won the 2017 election in Bangkok, Thailand, member federation delegates queued in a hotel corridor to be paid $5,000 (£3,930/€4,425) in bribes by Major General Intarat Yodbangtoey, the IWF’s first vice-president and Aján's second in command, the report says.
Other delegates, already onside, were treated lavishly and housed in a separate hotel from the Congress venue, to prevent them switching support.
"The extent of vote brokering at electoral and continental congresses demonstrates a shocking and scandalous level of institutionalised corruption," said the report’s author, the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren.
Speaking in Toronto, McLaren, who played the lead role in investigating state-sponsored cheating in Russian sport, said that there was suspicion of rigged voting at continental federations too – including at this year’s Pan American elections.
He said National Federations "seem to accept it as part of the culture of the IWF, and little, if anything has been done to stop these corrupt practices."
Aján was complicit not just in buying votes for himself, but also for other positions of influence on the Executive Board so he was surrounded by a strong team of supporters, the investigating team found.
Ma Wenguang, the Chinese who lost his role as General Secretary at the 2017 election, said Aján "was able to use the full weight of the IWF resources to get re-elected, while opponents had to use their own limited personal resources."
The report stated that "the only person with exclusive control of the IWF bank accounts, collection and handling of cash membership fees and member doping fines, and the ability to withdraw cash from the IWF bank accounts was Aján."
The McLaren team revealed how Aján twice defeated Antonio Urso, the Italian who stood against him in 2013 and 2017, with the help of bribes.
His victory in the last election in 2017 earned Aján a fifth term as President, which ended in April when he resigned, having been accused of corruption in a German television documentary.
Aján won "by paying Member Federations cash bribes ranging from $5,000 to $30,000 (£23,620/€26,570) to vote for him and his team of cronies," said the report.
"The financial forensic tracing of the IWF bank accounts show that the President had the total of $405,000 (£318,900/€358,570) and $218,000 (£171,600/€192,980) available to him at the time of the Moscow 2013 and Bangkok 2017 electoral congresses respectively."
Several confidential witnesses explained to investigators what happened, backing up the financial records, and the evidence of vote-rigging taken from the hard drive of IWF Director General Attila Adamfi, who is Aján's son-in-law.
The names of Aján's "Anointed Executive Board members" were written down on what the McLaren team called an "aide memoire", to ensure bribed delegates voted for the right people.
The evidence included one version of the "Anointed Executive Board list" photographed a month before the elections, and another from three days before the votes were cast. – "thus evidencing this process and revealing that the results of the election were predetermined well before any voting took place."
The "aide memoire" was forwarded to the bribed voting bloc, indicating the top eight senior positions with Aján top of the list.
To further ensure that there could be no doubt as to how the bribed voting bloc should vote, in the final column titled "VOTE’" a printed X was placed against each of the candidates’ names.
The names entered on the "aide memoire" for the top eight positions were not only similar to draft lists extracted from Mr Adamfi’s hard drives, but more importantly, also matched exactly the final ballot result as published subsequently by the IWF.
The report said: "Through interviews with confidential witnesses, the MIIT (McLaren Independent Investigation Team) has learned that the Asian, African and Oceanic Member Federations were the swing votes, which Aján could influence and bribe.
"In 2017 Aján secured his Presidency through an agreement with certain African and Asian federations, who were originally standing against him.
"The bribes ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 per vote and, specific to the 2017 election, members were lavished with trips on private cruise ships and stays in five-star hotels prior to the election.
"Documentary evidence indicates that the delegation of bribed officials had passed through Doha on May 27 2017 travelling as a group with Qatar Airlines to Thailand.
"Upon their arrival, this bribed voting bloc was driven to a different hotel from the one where all other members attending the Congress were staying.
"The bribed voting bloc was kept quarantined from the rest of the Electoral Congress until the very morning of the election to curb any possibility of the members switching their vote at the last minute.
"On the morning of the election they were bussed to the hotel where the Electoral Congress was taking place.
"Their quarantine however included a per diem, dinners and a trip on a cruise boat in Bangkok.
"The bribed voting bloc, armed with their personal "aide memoire", was instructed to photograph the completed ballot thereby evidencing for whom they voted - therefore, establishing their entitlement to a bribe.
"A confidential witness provided the MIIT with the photograph he had been sent of a delegate photographing his ballot paper with a mobile phone.
"Together, two confidential witnesses corroborated that camera flashes could be seen coming from inside the voting booths.
"Once the ballot had been submitted and the photo had been verified as a correct ballot by the vote broker, the delegate would receive their cash payment.
"In prior years, witnesses described that the vote broker would deliver the payment to the hotel room of the member who had been bribed.
"In 2017 however, witnesses observed delegates queuing in a corridor at the hotel following the vote to get their promised cash.
"The vote broker distributing the $5,000 cash bribe from a bag in his possession in 2017 was said to be Major General Intarat Yodbangtoey, the first vice-president of the IWF.
"Many witnesses stated that it eventually became common knowledge among all the Congress members which group had been bought by Aján and that he would win before the ballots were even counted."
One of McLaren’s "fundamental conclusions" was that "Presidential and other elections that took place during the period from 2009 - 2017 were astonishingly bribery prone."
Aján would maintain "a cadre of individuals close to him through the appointment of friends and associates without proper regard to their qualifications."
Witnesses called them the "President’s Team."
Aján would strategically choose individuals that are either "corrupt and status seekers" or "completely unaware and oblivious to what he was trying to accomplish."
In the latter group was Ursula Papandrea, the IWF’s Interim President from the United States who voted for Aján in 2017 but has since replaced him.
It was Papandrea who appointed McLaren to investigate the allegations of corruption, prompting Aján to insult and threaten her.
Members of Aján's team were often taken from the Executive Board and IWF hierarchy.
They "sought status for themselves or 'quid pro quo' favours for their support and the status of being on the President’s Team," the report said.
Generous support payments were sometimes paid to them, as well as cash for their votes.
The report added: "Through them, the President was not only able to distance himself from the dirty business of exchanging money for votes, but also coordinate a bought and predetermined election result by leveraging these individuals’ allies and ties to their own continental Member Federations.
"The President’s political prowess and clout among Member Federations resulted in corrupted and undemocratic elections that Member Federations seemingly accepted as the norm, despite their protestations to the contrary."
The report stated that "at least one member" of Aján's team lied about receiving bribes, and that some delegates voted when they were not allowed to, because of non-payment of membership fees.
It also states, remarkably: "The integrity provisions of the IWF Code of Ethics are highly deficient because the buying of votes is not an offence."
"The IWF needs fundamental reform and rebuilding from the foundations upwards to affect a shift in culture," McLaren said.
"The objective should be a fair and democratic election, free of bribery and favouritism."
The IWF’s Interim President, Ursula Papandrea, said yesterday that no Board members implicated in the report would be able to take part in any meetings that discuss vote-buying.
The ousting of some Board members appears to be inevitable.
Papandrea and her three colleagues on the Oversight and Integrity Commission would study a further confidential report from the McLaren team – including the names of those who paid or received bribes – before deciding on the next steps.