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Wednesday, July 31
Updated: August 1, 9:24 AM ET
Alleged Russian mobster accused of Olympic skating fix news services

NEW YORK -- An alleged Russian crime boss was arrested in Italy on U.S. charges he tried to fix the pairs and ice dancing figure skating competitions at the Salt Lake City Olympics, according to a federal criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

Alimzan Tokhtakhounov
Alimzan Tokhtakhounov was arrested in Italy on U.S. charges that he tried to fix the pairs and ice dancing figure skating at the 2002 Olympics.
Alimzan Tokhtakhounov, arrested in Venice, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bribery relating to sporting contests. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

The criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court identified Tokhtakhounov as a "major figure in international Eurasian Oganized Crime."

According to the complaint, Tokhtakhounov "has been involved in drug distribution, illegal arms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles." A confidential source told the FBI that he also had fixed beauty pageants in Moscow in the early 1990s.

The complaint alleges he used his influence with members of the Russian and French skating federations "in order to fix the outcome of the pairs and ice dancing competitions at the 2002 Olympics."

The court papers also allege he worked with "unnamed co-conspirators."

Tokhtakhounov is expected to plead innocent to all charges and fight extradition, said his lawyer Luca Salvarelli, who had not yet met with his client.

Prosecutors allege that Tokhtakhounov schemed to get the French judge to vote for the Russian pairs figure skating team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, which won the gold medal. In exchange, he tried to arrange for the Russian judge to vote for the French ice dancing team of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.

ESPN has learned that wire taps caught Tokhtakhounov discussing an alleged fix and saying of Anissina that "even if she falls, she will win, but it would be best if she did not fall." Also on the tape, Tokhtakhounov says that he talked to Anissina's parents and they were aware of the plan.

Federal investigators told The Associated Press that they have in their possession recorded telephone conversations between Tokhtakhounov and an unidentified French ice dancer, in which he brags about being able to influence the outcome of competitions, according to a senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official was not certain whether the ice dancer was one of the winning team members, when the conversation was recorded or by which authorities.

Federal law enforcement officials say they know of a conversation between Anissina and Tokhtakhounov.

There's a photo of an "Alim-Jean Tokhtakhounov" in Paris in 1999 linking arms with Russian tennis players Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Ukrainian player Andrei Medvedev on Medvedev's official Web site.

Shvets, the Russian Olympic spokesman, said Tokhtakhounov often spends time with Russian tennis players and enjoys socializing with Russian and former Soviet show business stars.

According to the complaint, the wiretaps caught the defendant talking to an unidentified female ice dancer's mother, telling her that "we are going to make your daughter an Olympic champion -- even if she falls, we will make sure she is number one."

A review of the scoring found that the French skaters won the ice dancing by a 5-4 vote, receiving the votes of the judges from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine.

However, the Russian judge did not give the French her first-place vote in ice dancing, instead picking the Russian team of Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh for the gold. Also ranking the Russians first were judges from Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

It is unclear how the Russian vote was involved in a swap, as the U.S. charge claims. The Russian team finished second in the competition.

Anissina Peizerat
Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat won gold after their tribute to the United States.

In Europe, one source says the entire former Eastern Bloc vote is under scrutiny.

Ukrainian judge Yuki Balkov, one of those voting for the French team, had already been suspended for a year after the 1998 Olympics for voting improprieties. ESPN has learned that he was caught on tape by Canadian judge Jean Senft as he tried to fix the results of the 1998 Olympic ice dancing competition. He outlined the final results before the event took place, saying he could promise Canada a medal if the judge went along with his plan.

He was later reinstated and voted the French pair first and the Russians second in Salt Lake City.

Prosecutors said that Tokhtakhounov hoped he would be rewarded with a visa to return to France, where he once lived.

On Thursday, Italian police said Tokhtakhounov referred to several judges in phone calls.

"We have recorded a conversation in which the suspect indicates that six judges may have been involved," police Col. Giovanni Mainolfi said. "However, we have no specific evidence against these judges at this time."

In Lausanne, Switzerland, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said he was disturbed by the possibility that Tokhtakhounov fixed the competitions.

"The IOC is appalled by the revelations, which came as a total surprise to us," Rogge said Thursday. "While we knew from previous investigations that the judgment in the pairs figure skating was not correct, we are shocked to learn of the alleged involvement of organized crime."

Rogge said the IOC wants to obtain all the facts and will confer with the International Skating Union. Only then, he said, can the IOC executive board examine the case with all information available.

Figure skating at the Salt Lake City Games was marked by the biggest judging scandal in Olympic history.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze won the gold medal by the slimmest of margins in pairs figure skating, defeating Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. But French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said the next day that she'd been pressured to put the Russians first, and the Canadians were later given duplicate gold medals.

Witnesses at an International Skating Union hearing during the games also testified that Le Gougne said she was pressured as part of a vote-swapping scheme involving the French and Russians in pairs and ice dancing.

Le Gougne later recanted but still was suspended, as was the head of the French skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet. Neither returned telephone messages seeking comment, but Le Gougne's Salt Lake City-based lawyer, Erik Christiansen, said she "has no involvement and no knowledge of this person or these allegations."

The ice dancing competition also was a point of controversy.

Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, who finished fifth, filed a protest questioning the voting that placed the couple lower than the Italian and Canadian couples who fell during the free dance, the final phase of the competition. The International Skating Union rejected the protest.

The Lithuanians said they didn't expect to win their appeal but came forward to generate publicity and expose judging inconsistencies.

"We wouldn't have done it unless there was such a stark realization that something was wrong, especially with the two skaters falling," said John Domanskis, spokesman for the Lithuanian Olympic team. "That certainly made it easier for our skaters to say, 'Yes, there is a problem, and it should be corrected.' "

Lobacheva and Averbukh took silver in ice dancing, Italy's Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio got the bronze, and Canada's Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz were fourth.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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Jamie Sale and David Pelletier respond to the news of a Russian crime boss' plot to fix the Olympics.
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