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France seeks arrest of two Russian former athletics officials: source

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks into the head office of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Quebec, Canada November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

PARIS (Reuters) - French judges have issued international arrest warrants for two former Russian athletics officials as part of an investigation of doping cover-ups, a legal source said on Tuesday.

The source named the two as Valentin Balakhnichev, the former president of the Russian athletics federation, and former head distance coach Alexei Melnikov.

Both were banned for life in January 2016, two months after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report containing evidence of widespread, state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics.

The report led to the suspension of the Russian athletics federation, which remains in effect to this day.

Balakhnichev, who also served as treasurer of global athletics body IAAF from 2011 to 2014, told Reuters that he had not been notified of the decision by French authorities. Melnikov did not answer multiple phone calls on Tuesday afternoon.

The French probe began in November 2015 with former IAAF chief Lamine Diack being put under formal investigation on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. He had been accused of receiving bribes to cover up doping violations by Russian athletes.

France’s financial prosecutor has said that Senegalese Papa Massata Diack, Lamine Diack’s son, had been at the heart of a corruption scheme in international sports, an accusation he has denied.

Although the Russian athletics federation has been banned since November 2015, some Russians have been cleared to compete internationally as neutrals if they demonstrate they are competing in a doping-free environment.

Reporting by Simon Carraud; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Hugh Lawson