Three British athletes fear they may be dragged into a legal battle in Kenya after being named by a group of local men who have been charged with supplying performance-enhancing drugs.
The Kenyans include a doctor, Samson Talei, and two other men, Ken Kipchumba and Joseph Mwangi, who were arrested last year after being covertly recorded saying they supplied athletes, including the Britons, with banned drugs such as EPO.
The UK’s anti-doping agency, UKAD, have conducted a 14-month investigation into whether the three Britons had any involvement with the accused men, which, we can reveal, finished in August. The alleged Kenyan suppliers remain charged with offences that are due to end in a court case, which police sources say will begin this year but prosecutors are unsure.
‘We will be looking at the outcome of the case closely and expect the Kenyan authorities to share any relevant information with us,’ says Nicole Sapstead, UKAD’s chief executive.
The Mail on Sunday will not name the British athletes but their identities have been confirmed during our investigation in Kenya, including by the country’s anti-doping agency, and their names appear in Kenyan police interviews related to the case.
We have also learned that:
Investigators working for athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, have found athletes are being tipped off before supposedly random tests. We have seen a signed copy of testimony by one prominent world record holder who admits this.
Talei was suspected of supplying ‘mid- to high-level Kenyan athletes with drugs’, a source says.
Some of those probing this issue fear for their safety — something that has been conveyed to the IAAF in writing and is being investigated.
Investigators have been thwarted at times in trying to obtain access to some athletes and training camps.
One, a former athlete and policeman called Julius Ndegwa, has told us he was initially refused access to a camp used by British Athletics as a winter training base. He says he was granted access after telling Sharad Rao, a former judge commissioned by the IAAF to investigate doping in Kenya, of the problems he faced.
Our investigation has examined the ongoing doping crisis in Kenya, where many British athletes go to train, but which is a place perceived in many quarters as a ‘wild west’ where drugs can be obtained and taken in remote areas with minimal chances of being detected.
Multiple Kenyan athletes have been hit by recent bans for anti-doping violations. Rita Jeptoo, the former Boston and Chicago marathon winner, is serving a four-year ban. Fellow distance runner Lilian Moraa Mariita is serving an eight-year ban for taking steroids.
Marathon runner Kennedy Lagat Kipyeo has been banned for doping until 2018, as has upcoming star Agatha Jeruto Kimaswai.
The seriousness of the situation has been acknowledged by the IAAF and their president Lord Coe, to the extent that Kenya remains on an IAAF watch list of rogue nations where doping and evasion of testing is easier than in many other countries.
The first part of Rao’s report is sitting with the IAAF already but the findings meant he had more work to do.
The IAAF says they are aware of the problems in Kenya in general and of related issues raised by Rao’s report and his investigators. ‘These are serious allegations,’ said a spokesperson. ‘The IAAF ethics board, the independent judicial body, is currently undertaking an extensive investigation into anti-doping control process allegations in Kenya. We await the conclusion of this investigation.’
UKAD sent a two-man team to Kenya in summer 2016 after media allegations implicated three Britons.
A Freedom of Information request by this newspaper gave us access to emails between UKAD employees at the time of the investigation and indicate several days of the trip at least were ‘a waste of time’ as they got no access to suspects.
But it is understood they did subsequently have significant face-to-face time with the alleged Kenya ‘dealers’ and access to paperwork that allegedly implicated the Britons. UKAD sources say this documentation was shown to be faked. Who faked it and why is unknown.
We are not naming the three Britons because they face no charges and all maintain their innocence. One of them has spoken to us about their own involvement and interrogation by UKAD. A second has communicated via a spokesperson. The third has declined to speak.
Each had a face-to-face interview with UKAD investigator Graeme Simpson last summer, in the run-up to the Rio Olympics.
One athlete has told us they were quizzed about the behaviour and movements of the other two.
All three have been repeat visitors over a number of years to Iten in rural Kenya, the self-style ‘Home of Champions’ where so many of the world best distance runners come from and train.
UKAD chief Sapstead said: ‘Last year, we opened an investigation into allegations that, potentially, British athletes were obtaining and using banned substances in Kenya. This involved sending UKAD investigators over to Kenya where they worked closely with the police and the Kenyan anti-doping agency.
‘We understand that criminal charges have been brought against a number of individuals by the Kenyan police. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further on that aspect of this matter.
‘UKAD can confirm that our investigation has now concluded with no further action for UK Anti-Doping to pursue, unless or until new evidence comes to light.
If anyone has any new credible evidence we strongly urge them to come forward to us in strict confidence. Our international work is a crucial part of our efforts to protect clean sport. We have jurisdiction over British athletes wherever they compete or train in the world and we often test athletes in overseas locations.’
Ndegwa continues to investigate on behalf of the IAAF for Rao, despite having told them in writing: ‘I feel that my life and my family is in danger, and I humbly request your intervention. I am delighted to be amongst the few whistleblowers who are fighting for decisive leadership in Athletics Kenya despite challenges.’
A spokesperson for the IAAF’s ethics board, the independent unit now established to probe global corruption around their sport, said: ‘The ethics board takes the security of whistleblowers, potential witnesses and persons cooperating with ethics board investigations with the utmost seriousness, and coordinates closely with the IAAF and Athletics Integrity Unit in respect of this issue both generally and in relation to specific cases.’