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Canadian skaters not surprised by arrest

Uzbek man charged with trying to fix Olympic competition

Sale: "Everything is kind of coming out in the wash."  

From Phil Hirschkorn
and Kelli Arena

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier said Wednesday they were not surprised by charges that their competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was fixed.

"It's figure skating," Sale said, smiling and throwing her hands up. "We just did our job at the Olympics. We did the best that we could ... We still didn't even know the truth, and obviously now, everything is kind of coming out in the wash."

"Wherever there's power, wherever there's money involved, there's always some bad people around," Pelletier said. "It's everywhere. It's not just in skating."

"It doesn't take away anything from what we did. We're still proud, and we still enjoyed 100 percent our Olympic experience."

In the most controversial decision of the Salt Lake games, judges awarded Sale and Pelletier the silver medal after a flawless pairs performance, while the Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold despite stumbling. Amid a public outcry, the Canadians, who have since turned professional, were awarded duplicate gold medals.

Read the sealed complaint: U.S. v. Tokhtakhounov (FindLaw document; PDF format)

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On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in New York charged Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov with wire fraud and bribery.

Tokhtakhounov is accused of brokering a deal in which Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze would be awarded the gold medal in the pairs competition in return for a French pair, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, winning the gold in ice dancing. Anissina and Peizerat did win the ice dancing competition.

Tokhtakhounov is a native of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan and has been living in Italy. A federal prosecutor says he has been the target of an investigation by the FBI's organized crime task force for more than a year and was arrested by Italian authorities.

U.S. officials are seeking his extradition to face one count of bribery to influence a sporting competition and one count of wire fraud. If convicted, Tokhtakhounov could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and fined up to $250,000 on both charges.

The complaint against Tokhtakhounov accuses other unnamed co-conspirators of involvment in the scheme.

According to an FBI affidavit, a wiretap recorded a conversation in which Tokhtakhounov told an unnamed co-conspirator, identified by the FBI as a member of the Russian Mafia, that he had received a call from the mother of a female ice dancer on the French team "regarding the Olympics."

The affidavit quoted Tokhtakhounov as saying, "We will help her. That's a given."

A picture of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, released by U.S. officials.
A picture of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, released by U.S. officials.  

That co-conspirator then referred Tokhtakhounov to another person, who was quoted as telling Tokhtakhounov that "our French have amazed me in a good way ... The Canadians were 10 times better, and, in spite of that, the French with their vote gave us first place," the affidavit said.

The vote of French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne gave the Russian pair the gold medal over the Canadians in the pairs event. Questioned about her decision, Le Gougne first said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians by Didier Gailhaguet, the head of the French skating federation, but she later retracted that claim. (Full story)

After an investigation, the International Skating Union banned Le Gougne and Gailhaguet from the sport for three years. The ISU also revamped its judging process.

In a written statement, the U.S. Figure Skating Association said it was "surprised by the announcement" of Tokhtakhounov's arrest.

"The USFSA fully supports the ongoing investigation by federal prosecutors concerning any alleged criminal activity at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games," the statement said.

Although the Olympics were held in Utah and Tokhtakhounov is accused of arranging the conspiracy with phone calls made in Italy, the case was brought in New York because of an ongoing investigation there into Russian organized crime, U.S. Attorney James Comey said.

French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne cast the deciding vote.
French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne cast the deciding vote.  

"We have a very long-standing interest and success in investigating and prosecuting Russian organized crime, which since the break-up of the Soviet Union is called Eurasian organized crime, and, in particular, this defendant," he said. "We have a keen interest in this individual and his organization."

The FBI affidavit said Interpol, the international police organization, believes Tokhtakhounov has been involved in drug distribution, illegal firearms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles, as well as having fixed beauty pageants in Moscow in the early 1990s.

--CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn and CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this report.




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