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Russian organized crime implicated in skating scandal

Tokhtakhounov has been charged with fixing Olympic skating events
Tokhtakhounov has been charged with fixing Olympic skating events  


NEW YORK (CNN) -- A Russian man was indicted Wednesday in connection with an international conspiracy to fix the outcomes of the pairs figure skating and ice dancing competitions at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The indictment, handed down Wednesday in Manhattan federal court said Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov influenced members of both the Russian and French skating federations.

The French judge's vote for the Russian pairs figure skating team ensured the Russians a gold medal, while in exchange, the Russians ensured the French ice dancing team would win that event's gold medal.

During the ice skating competition in February, the Russian team of Elena Bereznaia and Anton Sikharulizde, who skated a flawed performance, were awarded the gold medal, while the Canadian team of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, with a near-perfect performance, were originally given the silver.

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After a public outcry and an investigation by the International Olympic Committee, Sale and Pelletier were also awarded gold medals, while the Russian skaters were allowed to keep theirs.

In the ice dancing competition, the French pair of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat narrowly won the gold. Anissina is a Russian native.

In the IOC investigation, one of the pairs competition judges, Marie-Reine Le Gougne of France, first said she had been pressured to vote for the Russians by the president of the French Skating Federation, but she later retracted that claim. The International Skating Council banned both her and French skating head Didier Gailhaguet from the sport for three years.

Tokhtakhounov faces five counts: sports bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery related to sporting contests, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the Travel Act, which makes it a crime to travel across state lines or overseas to engage in unlawful activity. Each offense carries a maximum prison term of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000 upon conviction.

Tokhtakhounov was arrested by Italian authorities at his resort residence in Forte Dei Marmi in northern Italy in July. The United States plans to file extradition papers with Italy next month.

Evidence against Tokhtakhounov includes wiretaps of his conversations, including phone calls with a known member of the Russian Mafia, according to an FBI agent's affidavit that was released last month by authorities.

That agent, William E. McCausland, described a conversation with an unnamed co-conspirator -- identified as CC-1 -- who, he said, was a known member of Russian organized crime. Told that the mother of the woman on the French ice dancing team had called Tokhtakhounov "regarding the Olympics," CC-1 said, "We will help her. That's a given," McCausland said.

CC-1 directed Tokhtakhounov to another Russian, identified as CC-2, who told him, "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 FBI agent's affidavit says.

U.S. Attorney James Comey said the investigation is continuing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI describe Tokhtakhounov as having been born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, either on January 1, 1949, or January 1, 1940.

McCausland's affidavit says Interpol, the international police organization, believes Tokhtakhounov has been involved in drug distribution, illegal firearm sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles. The agent added that Tokhtakhounov is alleged to have fixed beauty pageants in Moscow in the early 1990s.

Comey said the United States has "a very long-standing interest and success in investigating and prosecuting Russian organized crime, which since the breakup of the Soviet Union is called Eurasian organized crime, and in particular in this defendant."

"We've been investigating this defendant for a variety of other things for over a year -- 'we' meaning the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI's Organized Crime Task Force. So we have a keen interest in this individual and his organization," he said.

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

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



 
 
 
 


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